Catholic Nun Narrates Harrowing Account of Murders, Explosions in Ethiopia’s Tigray Crisis

A Catholic Nun poses for a photo session with children in Tigray, Ethiopia/ Credit: Agenzia Fides

Horror surrounded Shire, a town in Ethiopia’s Tigray region at the start of the ongoing civil war, a Catholic Nun who works in the troubled Northernmost region of the Horn of African country has recounted.

Sr. Monica Neamţu who had never encountered a civil war before gives the details of last November when Sisters in her community in Shire were startled by loud noises of bomb explosions that pierced the otherwise quiet town.

A few days before, word went around silently that a civil war was coming owing to the tensions that were building up between the Ethiopian government and that of Tigray, a region covered by Ethiopia’s Eparchy of Adigrat.

But it was only after the Sisters saw people vacating nearby towns and flooding the streets of Shire that it dawned on them that it was no longer business as usual in Tigray.

The loud explosions that followed, the people that continued to seek refuge in Shire in large numbers, and the bodies that were abandoned on the streets outside the town further confirmed the full extent of the battle.


The Sister of Charity who has been working in Ethiopia for three years tells Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Vatican's Propaganda Fide, that nothing prepared Ethiopia for the ongoing strife.

“When I arrived in the Country, peace reigned and nothing signaled the storm of war. Yes, we felt that there were tensions between the national government and that of Tigray; we could see that many people of Tigray, who previously lived in other regions of the country, were returning to the region because there were tensions. But that's all, until November 3,” Sr. Monica says in the Monday, April 26 report.

Sharing about the fear that gripped her following the events that followed, Sr. Monica says, “I was born in times of peace so I did not have the faintest idea what I should expect.”

In the days that followed, she says that the whole Tigray region was left with neither light nor telephone connection. This was followed by mounting of blocks to cut those who wanted to help from accessing the region.

“Everything stopped,” the Catholic Nun recounts, and adds, “We started to see many displaced people arriving in Shire who lived in cities near the Amhara region such as Humora and many others. They slept on the street, under the trees. The inhabitants of the city immediately went out of their way to collect some food to come to their aid.”

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Sr. Monica recounts the confusion that reigned in the city that had been surrounded by soldiers, saying, “People continued to move completely disoriented, frightened, looking for a safe place... This reality lasted for more than a week.”

About a week later, the Sisters heard, for the first time, the sounds of the bombing, which were approaching Shire.

The town she says, was no longer a safe haven for people who had fled from regions surrounding it.

“On the 17th, in the silence of the morning, we hear bombs passing over our house. Where will they fall? Where can we go? Then silence. A guard arrives and invites us to escape to save ourselves,” the Missionary Sister recalls.

She continues, “All the people of the city fled to hide, hoping to save themselves. But we ... Where could we go? Could we find a safe place in this situation? Then silence again, a dead silence and one waits, what? God knows. Then again bombs.”


The same day, the Sisters saw a long line of tanks that were closely followed by soldiers pass through Shire. This, she recalls, went on for more than a week while streets remained desolate.

“For nearly two days, we hardly saw anyone moving on the street. Then timidly the people of the city began to go out. We saw some collaborators also from our health center, the small hospital which, in normal times, welcomes at least 300 people every day,” she narrates, adding that the Sisters plunged into action, attending to those who urgently needed health care.

The Sisters also learnt of the many bodies that had been abandoned around churches in the town of Shire that was now under full possession of the country’s federal soldiers.

“People felt a little relieved, if you can put it that way, because we only had federal soldiers and not those from Eritrea. Eritreans are feared even by the mention of the name alone. And their fear was well motivated,” Sr. Monica says in the report by Agenzia Fides.

The Catholic Nun says that the humanitarian situation in Tigray has continued to deteriorate by the day.

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She further condemns perpetrators of the violence, saying, “It is not easy to see, or rather, take part in this terrible story where, in the name of justice, man raises his hand against the other man who is his brother.”

The Nun further poses, “How can we not see and feel the desperation of the people who, in order to escape from death, walked for days without anything, facing all the dangers of the situation? How not to feel involved in the pain of so many people who cannot reach their loved ones and do not know if they are alive or dead?”

“Is it possible to remain indifferent to the many pregnant women who could not find a safe place to give birth to their newborn and who for days and nights found themselves in the middle of the street? How not to feel touched to see how people would walk for hours in order to find a doctor, carrying their sick person on their backs, with a 'bed' made of some wooden boards or, who was more fortunate, with a donkey and a wheelbarrow?” she says.

“Six months have passed and this continues,” Sr. Monica says, and adds, “It is always hoped that maybe tomorrow it will end and at the same time we live in the uncertainty that things will worsen and not knowing for how long.”

She says that today, many displaced people continue to arrive and fill Shire.

“Even today as I write these few lines of my experience, man is increasingly trampled on in his dignity, abused, mistreated to the point of death and even after,” the Nun says in her letter to Agenzia Fides, and poses, in her call for the end of the violence, “Where are you as a man? Where is your dignity as a human person? Where is your humanity?”

In her moving letter, Sr. Monica summarizes her three-year stay in Shire, saying, “Everything can never be expressed. What I deeply felt and that shook me as a person, remains there as a treasure of my history with man and with God, in this historical moment in Tigray.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.