Advertisement

Salesians Appeal for Prayers for Safe Release of Members Arrested in Addis Ababa Raid

Don Bosco Children Centre in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa. Credit Courtesy Photo

Members of the Religious Institute of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) are appealing for prayers to secure the safe release of their confreres who were arrested when government forces in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, raided two of their premises. 

On November 5, Ethiopian security forces raided two SDB compounds, including their Provincial House in the Gottera area of Ethiopia’s capital, ​​Addis Ababa, arresting several people including Priests, Religious brothers, and employees. 

In a Wednesday, November 10 interview with ACI Africa, Ethiopian-born SDB member currently in Nairobi recounted the events of last week that took place in Gottera and Mekanisa areas of ​​Addis Ababa.

“On November 5, there were mass arrests of Tigrayans in Addis Ababa. Two compounds of Don Bosco were raided by the police, one of them twice,” Br. Dory Amene Yohannes who is studying Theology at the Nairobi-based Salesian Theological College, Don Bosco Utume, said.

“The police arrested 38 people, mainly Tigrayans; they were taken to unknown place,” Br. Dory further said, adding that among those taken away by the police during the November 5 raid were 11 SDB members.

Advertisement

Some of the Salesians arrested included, the Provincial Superior, Fr. Hailemariam Medhin, the Bursar, Bro. Tedros Berhe, the Dean of the college of Mekelle, Fr. Girmay Berhane, and the Coordinators of the Salesian schools and youth center of Mekelle, Br. Dory told ACI Africa November 10.

Two SDB members have since been released, the native of Ethiopia’s Tigray region said, and identified the two who gained their freedom as the SDB Vice Provincial in Ethiopia, Fr. Ignacio Lavencture, and Fr. Chrys Saldanha.

“The two were released because they are foreign missionaries; it was after an intervention of their respective Embassies,” Br. Dory said in reference to Fr. Ignacio and Fr. Chrys who hail from Uruguay and India respectively. 

“The only crime of those Priests arrested during the raid is being a Tigrayan or found with a Tigrayan,” the SDB member told ACI Africa, adding that among the nine Salesians still in detention, “one is Eritrean; he was found with other Salesians who are Tigrayans.”

He further said, “the mass arrests of Tigrayans in Addis Ababa and other regions of the country is still going on.”

More in Africa

“My prayer and hope is that those detained be safe and alive and that they are released soon,” Br. Dory told ACI Africa during the November 10 interview.

He appealed to the Abiy Ahmed-led government “not to attack innocent civilians because of their (ethnic) identity.”

The civilians, the Ethiopian-born SDB member added, “are already depressed by the worries of their families because the government cut off all the means of communication, including the Internet, phone, electricity, bank services and means of transportation. On top of that, government authorities are putting civilians in prison and humiliating them very badly. They are making them to hate their beloved country.”

In a Tuesday, November 9 report by Agenzia Fides, Fr. Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean Priest from the Arch eparchy of Asmara described the arrest of the SDB members in Addis Ababa as shocking.

“We are shocked by the news of the arrest of Ethiopian and Eritrean Priests, Deacons and Lay people who lived and worked in the Salesian Provincial House,” Fr. Zerai has been quoted as saying. 

Advertisement

He added, “Salesians in Ethiopia call on people to pray for peace and unity in the country and for the release of all those arrested in the raids.”

“We still do not understand the reasons for such a serious act,” Fr. Zerai says in the report, and queries, “Why are Priests arrested who exercise their educational mandate, especially in a center that has always been committed to doing good, which has been visited by many children for years and where street children are rehabilitated?”

“It is clear to everyone that the churches, the houses of the religious, are not centers of politics,” he said.

The Priest hopes that the arrest “will not be an obstacle to the mission of the Church towards the poor and towards those who find themselves in difficulty.”

“I visited the center myself and saw how well it works because it is open to everyone, regardless of ethnicity, religion or social class,” Fr. Zerai says.

(Story continues below)

SDB members began ministering in Ethiopia in 1975. They have an established presence in the country's Tigray region, particular the capital, Mekelle. 

Ethiopia’s Tigray region has been the scene of violence since 4 November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed-led government ordered a military offensive against the authorities in the State. 

The military offensive was in response to the alleged attack on Ethiopia’s largest military base located in Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, by forces loyal to the region’s government.

On November 2, the government of Ethiopia reportedly announced a six-month State of Emergency in the country “to protect civilians from atrocities being committed by the terrorist TPLF group in several parts of the country” after the rebels threatened to march towards the capital, Addis Ababa.

On November 7, Pope Francis expressed concern about the escalating violence in Ethiopia.

“I am following with a lot of concern the news coming from the region of the Horn of Africa, in particular in Ethiopia shaken by a conflict that has been enduring for more than a year which has caused numerous victims and a great humanitarian crisis,” Pope Francis said during his traditional Sunday appearance to the public in Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square. 

He emphasized the need for dialogue in the place of the protracted violent conflict, and called for prayers for the people of God in Ethiopia who are “extremely hard pressed.” 

In Ethiopia, SDB members are responding to the country’s “most pressing challenges — abandoned, runaway and at-risk youth who are struggling to build their lives,” a report by Salesian Missions, the U.S.-based development arm of the Religious Institute, indicates. 

The report further indicates, “Recognizing the harsh realities facing homeless and malnourished youth on the streets, Salesian programs are tailored to meet their most basic needs along with providing education to help them lead happy, productive lives.”