Ethiopian Cardinal, Church Delegates Held Overnight at Asmara Airport, Denied Entry

Berhaneyesus Cardinal Souraphel, Archbishop of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Credit: Public Domain

The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia, Berhaneyesus Cardinal Souraphel and the members of the delegation he was leading spent a night at Eritrea’s Asmara airport Saturday, February 22 and returned home after they were denied entry into Eritrea, the Bishops’ Secretariat has confirmed in a statement.

The statement from the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat (ECS) dated February 27 and availed to ACI Africa explains that after undergoing all the necessary immigration checks, the Ethiopian Cardinal and his entourage were blocked on orders from a “higher authority.”

“While they were expecting the final check out from the Airport to meet the official welcome organized by the Eritrean Church leaders and the faithful, the Airport Security Officials approached them and told them that Higher Authority forbade them the entrance to Eritrea,” the ECS statement reads in part.

The Cardinal-led delegation was “forced to pass the night in the airport and return home the next day,” further reads the statement signed by the Deputy Secretary General of ECS, Abba Gabriel Woldehanna, a member of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (OFM. Cap).

Cardinal Souraphiel was accompanied by the Bishop of Emdibir, Bishop Musie Ghebereghiorghis and the Secretary General of the Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia, Fr. Teshome Fikre.

This Cardinal-led delegation had responded to the invitation of the Archbishop of Asmara and President of the Eritrean Catholic Bishops Conference, Abune Menghistab Tesfamariam “to take part in the 50th Golden Jubilee Celebration of the Construction of the Prestigious Catholic Cathedral of Mary Kidanemehret (Mary, Covenant of Mercy) Church on Monday, February 24.

“While the Ethiopian Catholic Church appreciates the peace negotiations reached between our two sister Countries and is always her constant prayers for lasting peace, finds herself unfortunate not being allowed to enjoy herself and feels sad for the incident,” the one-page statement reads.

On Sunday, February 23, the Cardinal shared his encounter with the faithful at Kebenna Kidanemehret Parish Church in Addis Ababa, reaching out to them “to pray for our both churches and the two Sister countries for full realization of lasting peace through the Maternal Intercession of Mary Kidanemehret.”

The Eritrean government has been hostile towards the 4.6 percent Catholic population, since last year when Bishops in the country called for political reforms.

In retaliation, the government, ordered the closure of 22 Catholic-run health facilities, citing older regulations banning religious bodies from operating such institutions.

Since gaining independence from neighboring Ethiopia in 1993, the one-party state has never had a national election with President Isaias Afwerki’s rule being described by many as “repressive.”

Rights and freedoms enshrined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights such as freedom of worship remain undermined in Eritrea, with Human Rights Watch 2019 report indicating that “the government refuses to recognize all but four religious groups: Sunni Islam, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical (Lutheran) churches.”


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
[email protected]