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Bishops in Eritrea Pledge to Continue Reclaiming Catholic Institutions “forcibly taken”

The Flag of Eritrea. Credit: Public Domain

Catholic Bishops in Eritrea have pledged to continue reclaiming Catholic institutions that the government has “forcibly taken” away.

In a Thursday, June 10 news report, the Catholic Bishops say the nationalization of schools and health institutions established by the Eritrean Catholic Church that started in 2019 is detrimental to the principles of justice.

“We, pastors and leaders of the Catholic Church in Eritrea, are deeply saddened and intimately hurt by the measures that the government is taking or has already taken by force, taking away from us the educational and health institutions that legitimately belong to us, and limiting our service to the country,” the Bishops have been quoted as saying in the Vatican News report.

Making reference to the Catholic Church in the country, the Catholic Bishops add that they “will never cease to demand the return of the social institutions forcibly taken from her and the right to perform all the services of which she has been deprived.”

“Let it be said without hesitation and without any qualms whatsoever once again to friends and non-friends alike: The schools and clinics confiscated or closed, or about to be confiscated or closed, are the legitimate property of the Catholic Church, built, established and organized in the supreme and exclusive interest of serving our people,” they say. 

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The Church leaders who say they are “at a loss” following the nationalization also admit to not understanding “the real purpose of the continued seizures of Church property.”

In 2019, the Eritrean government reportedly took over 29 Catholic health facilities and seven Catholic-sponsored schools. Some of the clinics were later shut down. 

Following this forcible take over, Catholic Bishops in the Eastern African nation condemned the government’s seizure and closure of the institutions describing it as “hatred against the faith and against religion.”

“The actions that are being taken against our educational and health institutions are contrary to the rights and to the legitimate freedom of the Church,” the Catholic Bishops in Eritrea said in their September 2019 letter.

In the June 10 report, the Bishops express concerns about continued forcible take over of Catholic Church institutions saying, “Just as in the past, some members of the Eritrean government forcibly closed down some and nationalized other health centres, which served the people with exemplary dedication and without any distinction of religion, ethnicity or group.”

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“Today the authorities continue to try to make the people believe that the health and educational institutions belong to the people, and not to the Church,” they further say, adding that actions by the President Isaias Afwerki-led government “violate in principle and in fact their rights and are explicitly detrimental to the most elementary principles of justice.”

“The Catholic Church firmly denounces these measures,” they say.

Instead of viewing the Catholic Church as a competitor in the health and education sectors, the Bishops say, Eritrean authorities need to “recognize that the Church aims to serve all Eritreans.”