In Ethiopia’s war-torn Tigray Region, Church provides material and spiritual help

THERE IS A MAJOR HUMANITARIAN CRISIS in the Tigray Region in the north of Ethiopia. It is caused by the conflict between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). It erupted last November and led to a brutal military intervention by troops of the Ethiopian federal army joined by forces from Ethiopia’s northern neighbor Eritrea.

“There is rampant hunger and fear,” an Ethiopian Catholic priest told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Speaking by telephone, he asked that his name not be revealed. He described a “still devastating war going on in almost the whole of the Tigray region.”

The biggest challenge for the people—even those not directly affected by the fighting—is that there is “no free movement,” the priest said. As a result, “there are no public services, not enough food, no medication, no security or trust,” he added.

The priest, who had been able to connect with outside world in five months, said that “the situation is worsening by the moment” and that “the people are at the end of their strength.” Children and orphans especially are suffering from hunger and neglect, he said, and he has even encountered mothers who “come to ask help because they have lost their children and don’t know where they are.”

“I don’t have the words to describe their suffering; there is great despair and the people are traumatized,” the priest said. The electricity supply is also failing and “most of Tigray has no Internet connection and where it is available it is only intermittent,” he said.

Without revealing his exact location, in order to avoid reprisals, the priest confirmed that in his own area “three parish priests have been threatened and beaten” and that all the property of the parishes has been “completely cleaned out by the soldiers.” “Hundreds were killed,” he added.

However, “the Church has never stopped doing her job,” he stressed; she continues “tending her sheep” and arranging carefully a “time and place” for their gatherings, as it is still dangerous to move around.

A girl from the Desanetch tribe (photo by Magdalena Wolnik)

In the face of the suffering and fear of the people, the priest is nonetheless continuing to prepare, together with his flock, for Easter feast, which is celebrated in the Ethiopian Catholic Church—as in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as well—as according to the Julian Calendar and falls this year on May 2nd. In the midst of all the suffering and pain he is keen to remind his faithful that “God is faithful to his promises, to his holy words and to his infinite love for humanity, which he has created in his own image and likeness.” He added: “God is love and beyond our comprehension in His mysterious ways. What is darkness for humanity could be light for Him. What seems real death to us, for Him can mean life eternal.”

Tigray is one of the more developed regions of the country, with “a history of almost 2000 years of Christianity.” The priest reflected: “Our problem in the north is that we start depending on ourselves and forget the true God. When we put God out of our lives, death comes in and that is exactly what is happening now. It is a totally different path. We need to turn to the true God who loved us and gave himself for us.” He believes that only in this way will there be reconciliation among the warring parties.

The priest is aiming to create a youth development project, since “the youth are the backbone” for the transformation of the “entire society, both spiritually and economically.” Re-evangelization begins in the family, he insists, so it is vital to start with the young.

—Maria Lozano