Ethiopia: Give peace a chance

Bishop Varghese Thottamkara, Vicar Apostolic of Nekemte in Ethiopia, has issued an impassioned plea for the resumption of peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the rebel Oromo and Gumuz tribes. The ongoing conflict between the two parties has killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands.

The bishop, whose vicariate in west Ethiopia has been described as “the epicenter of the rebellion” by the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), discussed the mass displacement, as well as government restrictions in Nekemte City and the constant threat of kidnapping for ransom, with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

On a visit to ACN’s UK national office in Sutton, Surrey, Bishop Thottamkara said, “People are so fed up with the suffering. They need a solution, and so we hope that something will come out of these talks.” 

Bishop Varghese Thottamkara

He added, “Both the government and the tribes need to think of the good of the people. The government needs to say something to the rebels besides ‘put down your weapons.’ These people need to be reintegrated into the police and the army. They need to be integrated into society.”

Last week, the OLA accused the government of carrying out a military offensive after the first round of peace talks earlier this month ended without resolution. But Bishop Thottamkara urges the negotiators to be persistent, stressing the impact of the conflict on his community.

The bishop, who is leaving Nekemte next month after nine years of service to become bishop of Balasore, India, said that 20 of his churches had been forced to close for security reasons, while many of his priests are at risk because they are from the Oromo tribe.

The bishop described two incidents where his life was in danger – one involved a car ahead of him on the road coming under fire, and on another occasion, he was held up by heavily armed rebels in a town he was passing through.

Bishop Thottamkara also told ACN about priests and sisters being abducted for ransom and having to abandon their parishes.

He said, “It is very painful to know that our people have been through many problems and are unable to receive the sacraments.”

The bishop said that in the absence of priests, many faithful were reliant on catechists, and he went on to praise Aid to the Church in Need for funding their training and costs.

He also thanked ACN for clergy formation programs and Mass stipends for poor and persecuted priests.

—John Pontifex