, 06 December, 2019 / 3:14 AM
In the wake of ethnic violence in Ethiopia’s Oromia region in October that resulted in the death of dozens of people and the persecution of Christians in the country, a Catholic Priest has identified the Catholic Church, which holds a minority Christian population, as best positioned for successful “mediation work” and reconciliation of the people in the Horn of Africa.
“As a minority Church serving society without any ethnic or religious distinction, the Catholic Church is in the best position to play a role in mediation work,” Fr. Petro Berga of the Diocese of Addis Ababa told Aid to the Church in Need.
“Though a tiny minority, the Catholic Church is playing a big role in promoting peaceful co-existence,” a role realized through “organizing workshops on peace building and dialogue,” among other initiatives that involve the people, Fr. Berga said.
The appointment of the Archbishop of Addis Ababa, Berhaneyesus Cardinal Souraphiel by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister to head the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission confirms the significant place of the Catholic Church in mediating between parties in conflict, Fr. Berga observed.
Violence erupted in Ethiopia's Oromia region, which is predominantly home to the Oromo community, in October after Janwar Mohammed, a self-declared activist and influential politician, told his supporters that the authorities wanted to arrest him.
Following this, Christians, mainly from the Tewahedo Orthodox Church of Ethiopia, were persecuted leading to deaths and injuries.
This prompted Pope Francis to ask for prayers for the victimized Christians, a call the local Church has heeded.
“The socio-political condition of the country in general is a little bit volatile now” while the Middle East through Jawar remains “a serious threat for Christians in Ethiopia,” Fr. Berga said referencing the state of things after Janwar and the country’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met and agreed to bring an end to the conflict.
The Ethiopian cleric further explained, “The serious danger is a threat from the Middle East. A certain ethno-religious activist named Jawar Mohammed, with illicit finance from the Middle East, mostly from Egypt, has become a serious threat for Christians in Ethiopia.”
“The activists use the Oromo youth as an instrument to cause conflict,” the cleric lamented and added in reference to the activists and their religious motivation, “They use ethnicity to mobilize the young people easily but the violence and attacks have more of a religious than ethnic dimension.”
Citing the social problem of unemployment in the country as a factor in the conflict, Fr. Berga noted, “The youth are already disenchanted due to scarcity of work and employment and now they are exposed to violence due to the turmoil.”
As an intervention, Fr. Berga said, the Catholic Church is working toward “empowering the young people,” particularly through “pastoral and skill development and capacity building of the youth in the periphery.”
“Even if it is difficult to predict how the situation will evolve, we are optimistic that things will improve over time,” Fr. Berga told Aid to Church in Need.
“Ethiopians have lived sided-by-side for centuries, we are confident the values they share will keep them united to face these difficult situations,” Fr. Berga said and concluded, “Ethiopians are very religious people and the prayers of the faithful will be answered. God will protect Ethiopia from the danger of disintegration.”
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa