Ethiopia’s Tigray Region Residents “remain at the heart of the Passion”: English Bishop

Bishop Paul Swarbrick of England's Lancaster Diocese addressing participants in a virtual Mass for the people of Ethiopia

As Christians begin celebrations that culminate in the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Sunday to be marked April 4, a Bishop in England has highlighted the plight of the people living in crisis-ridden Ethiopia’s Tigray region, noting that they remain stuck “at the heart of the Passion” of Christ.

“As we approach Holy Week, the Passion, the Cross, the Resurrection of Christ, let us remember that as we celebrate Easter Sunday, many people - especially those in Tigray - remain at the heart of the Passion. They struggle to reach Easter Sunday,” Bishop Paul Swarbrick said during the March 26 virtual Mass to pray for Ethiopia.

During the Mass organized by the humanitarian arm of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD), Bishop Swarbrick shared some accounts of women who have survived the violence pitting the Federal government against the local authorities of the country’s Northernmost Tigray region.

“One woman spoke of how after all that she'd been through, she was just glad - she thanked God that she was still alive,” he recounted and added, “But then as I listened to some of the others who have suffered rape and physical violence at the hands of the soldiers… they didn't say these words, but you could hear them saying, ‘I wish I were dead.’”

Making reference to the women, the Local Ordinary of England’s Lancaster Diocese probed, “How can their lives have a future after what has happened to them, their loved ones, their homes, their country?”


Amid the crisis, the 62-year-old Bishop who is the Lead Prelate for Africa at the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) observed, “You can sense that the work of CAFOD, at times, can be quite frustrating at best, and tragic at other times as well.”

He explained, “All the good we try to do - the humanitarian aid and the faith and solidarity that we try to express - all the efforts that go into that are so easily undone. People on the ground there are conscious that the soldiers will return to do more violence.”

“The nightmares will not go away. The pain, the wounds - both physical, mental and emotional - will take decades to heal,” Bishop Swarbrick further said, referencing the tribulations of the people of God in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, located in the Catholic Diocese of Adrigat.

Despite the challenges in Africa’s second most populous nation, the Bishop who served in Zambia as a Fidei Donum Priest in the 1990s and early 2000s expressed CAFOD’s commitment to help the over 4.5 million affected people.

He explained, “One thing we need to remember is that we should not grow used to sin. We should not let sin overcome. When we look at these desperate situations, it would be easy not to enter into them until it is safe - until we know that our efforts will bear good fruit. But the Gospel doesn't wait for it to be safe before it goes in.”

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Bishop Swarbrick who has been at the helm of Lancaster Diocese since April 2018 continued, “The Gospel doesn't work best in a well-organized and peaceful situation. It is designed for the bad stuff. And CAFOD is making sure that the Gospel is going in there - where it is needed and when it is needed.”

He underscored the need for the people of God across the globe “to hear the cry of Tigray's people by listening to them and sharing their testimonies as much as we can,” a request he says has been put across by Bishop Tesfaselassie Medhin of Adrigat who has asked CAFOD’s leadership “to keep the profile of the crisis alive in the minds and hearts of people here.”

“We are called to stand in solidarity. Even though we are far away, physically, we can be close to them - through our prayer and through our efforts,” he said during the March 26 virtual Mass referencing the inhabitants of the Tigray region.

In the solidarity call, “We can also take encouragement from the example of Pope Francis, who says that when confronted with the horrors of war, we should not remain mired in theoretical discussions, but touch the wounded flesh of the victims,” he said.

“This is what the CAFOD workers, this is what CAFOD supporters are actually doing - touching the wounds of those who are in crisis,” he added.


Amid the crisis in Tigray, “We wonder where God is in these situations. And we remember that the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. Christ is in the crisis,” Bishop Swarbrick noted.

In his address, the Bishop recalled an incident in Zambia where a woman he went to administer the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick to, took her hand and placed it on her abdomen “because that's where she was feeling the pain.”

Addressing himself to CAFOD’s staff, he continued, “And it's as though the people of Tigray are taking the hand of CAFOD and putting it in the place where it hurts. Let them guide you to show how best you can help them.”

“We thank God for the example of the Church in Ethiopia and we pray for them and work with them and stand alongside them in praying for - and working for - better days and happier times. And we know that God will not allow this mess to end like this,” the Bishop of Lancaster said.

On her part, CAFOD’s Director Christine Allen shared the emergency responses that the UK-based Catholic entity is undertaking in Ethiopia amid the crisis that has caused “massive movement of people, untold destruction, huge amounts of violence particularly on women and children.”

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The responses include protection, health and psychological support, emergency food security and livelihoods support through cash transfer programs and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) services.

Fr. Mark Odion who presided over the Holy Mass urged people of goodwill and well-wishers to support CAFOD in their effort to help the people of Tigray affected by the crisis that started on 4 November 2020.

“Prayer alone is a key part but it is not enough. CAFOD needs your support financially in order to reach those people. We want to make life better for those who have been oppressed. We want to improve their living conditions,” he said during the March 26 Eucharistic celebrations.

Fr. Odion, a CAFOD trustee, continued, “There is a need to establish peace. There is a need to lobby the government; there is a need to actually make the life of children being abused in Tigray better. They have no opportunity to go to schools because they have been destroyed. They have no opportunity to even have a better life because their parents can’t even look after them.”