The Eritrean Catholic community in Edmonton, which numbers more than 1,500, hopes to raise awareness of Church persecution in their homeland.Submitted

Eritrean ex-pats fear for the Church in homeland as government persecution grows

Eritrea’s Catholic schools are all boarded up. Catholic cardinals are barred from entering the East African country. Soldiers have shut down hospitals by kicking out patients and the religious sisters who nurse them, leaving thousands without health care.

Thousands of kilometres away, Eritrean expatriates in Edmonton can only watch as the government chips away at the future of the Church in their country. The government continues to seize property and deny the Church’s ability to educate, heal the sick, comfort the dying, and worship as a community.

Tsehaye Kefel

“What is happening has paralysed the Catholic Church in Eritrea,” said Tsehaye Kefel. “We are banned from practising our mission.”

Kefel is one of 1,500 Eritrean Catholics who gather on Sunday evenings for Mass at Sacred Heart Church of the First Peoples in downtown Edmonton.

The Eritrean community encourages individuals, parishes, and members of the Knights of Columbus and  Catholic Women’s League to write their MP or the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. They hope this will create international pressure on the Eritrean government to return the clinics, schools and other properties seized the Church over the past 25 years.

Yohannes Hagos says the government forced out the Daughters of Charity sisters who ran the only clinic in Monoxieto, his home village in south Eritrea, late last year.

“Now my brother and his children do not get their vaccines on time. They don’t know if they will get emergency treatments,” said Hagos, who has lived in Edmonton since 2009.

“The government has replaced a small number of staff there, but the services do not compare to when the nuns were running it. The sisters delivered vaccines to the kids, provided emergency services, organized their own transportation, and the government does not do any of that. At most they will have one or two staff members on at a time.”

Yohannes Hagos

By September 2019, the Eritrean government confiscated five schools and 29 clinics operated by the Catholic Church after the country’s bishops published a pastoral letter last April critical of President Isiaias Afwerki. The letter calls for a truth and reconciliation plan following Eritrea’s two-decade war with Ethiopia, and a ban on hate speech.

“They are punishing the Catholic Church so they can shut them up and leave them without a voice,” said Kefel. “As a dictatorship, the government wants to curb whatever opposition comes its way – whether from individuals or religious institutions.”

“Catholics here in Edmonton, Catholics in Rome, and Catholics around the globe need to see this issue and take it as their own,” Kefel added. “We need all Catholics to be the voice of the Church in Eritrea, because attacking the Church in Eritrea is like attacking it everywhere.”

The Eritrean government began seizing Church schools, clinics and orphanages in 1995.

As a boy, Katela Okubamichael attended an elementary school run by the local Cistercian Monastery in his hometown of Keren. The Eritrean government denied the monastery an additional high school in the mid-1990s and now, the Cistercian priests are barred from teaching all together.

“This is how they make the Church powerless,” Okubamichael said. “The Church has no way to expand its mission if it cannot teach, and much of its ability to influence people will be gone.

Katela Okubamichael

“Historically the Church has been very vocal. They stand for the rights of oppressed people. So the government understands that people have an allegiance to the Church, and they want to void this allegiance as much as possible  ̶  to crack down on that influence in a way that will hit the Church and ordinary people directly.”

Bahta Yohannes fears the situation could escalate further, possibly with the arrest of Eritrea’s bishops after Ethiopian Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew was banned from entering Eritrea.

“You don’t expect anything good to come out of this prejudiced government,” said Yohannes, a lay brother with the De La Salle missionary order, which has been banned from Eritrea.

“This president has imprisoned his ministers, some of whom were close friends and political allies. We expect this could also happen to our Catholic bishops.”

Whenever Eritrean expatriates in Edmonton speak with family, their fears grow.

“They are scared. They feel censored by the government,” said Kiflemariam Tesfahawarial.

“They will not talk openly about what’s happening, not in public or over the phone. You can sense in their voice that they’re scared. And we feel we cannot say to them what we want to, because we also fear they may be tracked.”

Yohannes Hagos said: “There’s always the fear of what will happen next, that the nightmare is always evolving. Prayer is the biggest thing we need so that this nightmare can end and people can regain their power, their freedom, and their right to worship and educate.”


8 thoughts on “Eritrean ex-pats fear for the Church in homeland as government persecution grows

  1. There is no constitution,freedom of religion,free press,right for education,right to work.democracy in Etitrea.

    To summarise,people are not allowed to live their lives!!!

  2. Persecution of ethnic and religious minorities is on the rise globally and is led by the most powerful fascists such as Trump, Boris Johnson, Modi, Netanyahu, Jair Bolsonaro to name a few. It’s a shocking fact to me though that it’s happening in Eritrea and to the very people who only yesterday sacrificed everything for independence are being subjected to persecution and humiliation
    in their own homeland and at the hands of non but Eritreans. God is with you and so are our hearts.

    Abduljadir Abdullahi,
    The Ogaden Region.

  3. Don’t write things or judge by hearing only by one side. The reality in Eritrea is that education, healthycare is free. And I testify that the goe encourages people to go to school not only inside but also give some scholarship. If you look on UN development
    statistics about the healthycare in Eritrea you will find that Eritrea is in a good position.

  4. “But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and wealthy neighbours, but above all the poor and the sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Lk 14:14).

    It is the mission of the church to be the voice of the voiceless…defend the poor and marginalised.

    Everything is politics but politics is not everything.

    Participating in politics is the highest form of charity that serves the common good.

  5. The Catholic Church’s mission is to carry out and continue the work of Jesus Christ on Earth. The Church, and those in it, must:

    share the Word of God
    help those in need
    live as examples to all

  6. First, you it would have been better to investigate why they are closed. instead of simplifying to a blind hate towards the Catholic mission by the Eritrean government. You should also know that in Eritrea, ALL Religious institutions are NOT allowed to conduct any activities – other than religious matters. But if they will, they are allowed to fund humanitarian projects. This is not particular to the Catholics. Stop hearsay and biased information – Good for you

    1. Brother Habtsh, the government of Eritrea doing this to all the religions doesn’t mea, the gevernment is doing right. Yes, the government is closing all institutions run by religous institutions but this is illegal and inhuman act. You said “ALL Religious institutions are NOT allowed to conduct any activities – other than religious matters”, what are the ones you classify as “religious matters”? To us, Catholics and other christians, religious matters are preaching and living the Gospel. Thus, all the healthcare and academic institutions run by the catholic church are channels of living the gospel. It’s sad to see people supporting the government in this evil action.

  7. It is good to stick to the business of religion. Don’t mix politics and religion, that is a recipient for disaster.

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