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Catholic Priest Fleeing Violence in Ethiopia Pleads for Peace in Heart-wrenching Message

Credit: Aid to the Church in Need

A Catholic Missionary has written to Catholic Pontifical foundation, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International, appealing for peace in areas surrounding Ethiopia’s Tigray region that have experienced violence for nearly a year, plunging the region into a deep humanitarian crisis.

The Priest who ACN does not name for security reasons wrote the letter while he was fleeing from Kombolcha, a town outside Tigray that had been abandoned by locals as fighters closed in.

ACN reported on Monday, November 1 that the town was overrun by Tigrayan forces who have been fighting to push the government outside the region.

The Priest told the Pontifical charity organization that he had already sent other Priests to Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa and that he was planning to flee.

“Things have become bad. Now we are forced to flee”, wrote the Priest from Kombolcha the evening before the town was overrun.

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He added, “I have already sent other Fathers, now I am remaining alone with the watchmen. I will see if I can also run away tomorrow… We are humbly asking for your prayers for peace and security in our region, as well as other types of support.”

ACN reports that until the end of October, the Priest was based in the Ethiopian town that is located on the outskirts of the Amhara region, close to Tigray, and about 380 km north of the capital Addis Ababa.

The town, the charity foundation reports, was flooded by thousands of people fleeing the conflict zone, with even more in neighboring towns such as Dessie.

As the days went by, initial worries of how to provide food and humanitarian aid to the internally displaced people (IDPs) turned to concern over fighting, which kept growing closer.

The Priest said that people who had relatives in the capital sent their children and wives away, adding, “We also sent some of our Seminarians to Addis Ababa, but we, the Priests, stayed to be with the people who fled, to see how things developed.”

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“We saw much suffering,” the Priest narrated, and explained, “Many people were killed and others had to flee and required food, water, medicine, and places to stay. Our small town of Kombolcha had over 4,000 IDPs. We did what we could to gather food, blankets, and water but it was just a drop in the ocean of necessity. But as they say, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”

He further recounted that in the final days of October, however, the situation became worse as fighting drew closer, with Tigrayan forces pushing back a government offensive and taking Dessie and Kombolcha. It was at this point that the missionaries were forced to leave.

ACN reports that the remaining refugees managed to escape Kombolcha before the arrival of the Tigrayan forces and made it 50 km South, towards Addis Ababa, before having to stop because the road was blocked. But the missionary Priest was able to inform ACN that they are safe, adding, “I am out of danger. The roads are full of people.”

Fighting between the majority Amhara Government soldiers and Tigrayan forces began on 4 November 2020 and saw the involvement of the Eritrean military.

ACN reports that the reasons for the war are complex, adding that the results have been especially tragic for the civilian population.

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According to the foundation, Ethiopia’s rich Christian heritage is also under threat, with Lalibela, a city known for its rock-hewn churches, having been affected by the fighting.

Also affected, according to the Pontifical foundation, is Axum, the former capital of the Ethiopian empire and, according to local tradition, the current resting place of the Ark of the Covenant.

ACN says that Ethiopia is “divided roughly” in half between Christians and Muslims, noting that the country’s past is, however, linked to the Christian faith, making it the oldest independent Christian country in the world.

“Most Christians belong to the pre-Chalcedon Ethiopian Tewahedo Orthodox Church, which is in communion with other Oriental churches such as the Coptic and Armenian churches,” the organization reports, and adds, “There is a small but vibrant Catholic community, divided into Latin rite and Ethiopian Ge’ez rite.”

The Catholic Priest who spoke to ACN noted that the recent swearing in of Prime-minister Abyi Ahmed for a second five-year term carried some hope of peace, but that the peace was short-lived.

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“Signs bearing a flower and the words ‘New Beginnings’ were seen across the capital Addis Ababa ahead of the swearing in ceremony. After the ceremony we hoped that the war would end but we were surprised that it was still going on and getting closer to us in Kombolcha,” he said.

According to ACN, the conflict in Ethiopia means that many of the more difficult regions have become inaccessible for journalists and humanitarian agencies.

“Faced with the growing tension, the Catholic missionaries know that material aid is hard to come by and ask especially for prayers,” ACN reports, and reiterates the Catholic Priest’s plea to people of good will to support those who have been displaced in the horn of Africa nation through prayers and material aid.