Head of Ethiopian Catholic Church says Australians are helping to build the country anew

09 Jun 2022

By The Record

Cardinal Berhaneyesus with Father Israel Quirit
Cardinal Berhaneyesus celebrating the Pentecost Vigil Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth. Photo: Ron Tan.

As the impacts of civil war, poverty and famine continue to wreak havoc on his country, the leader of the Ethiopian Catholic Church says a brighter future is being forged with the help of Catholics in Australia.

The Archbishop of Addis Ababa, Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, preached at the Vigil Feast of Pentecost at St Mary’s Cathedral on 5 June, part of a visit to Australia to thank people for their ongoing support of the Church’s efforts to improve the lives of her fellow Ethiopians.

“Education is very important; education is the key to coming out of poverty,” Archbishop Berhaneyesus told the gathering at Mass concelebrated by St Mary’s Cathedral priest, Fr Israel Quirit.

“That is the belief of the Catholic Church in Ethiopia. That is why we have many schools, especially in the countryside, especially where many do not get the possibility to go to school.”

While comprising less than two per cent of the country’s 115 million population – Orthodox Christians and Muslims make up 45 and 30 per cent, respectively – the Ethiopian Catholic Church operates more than 430 mostly regional schools, a number second only to those run by the government.

“Many of our schools are dedicated to the education of girls because they also do not get the opportunities,” the Cardinal said.

“And many experience the terrible, terrible pangs of poverty in the countryside, especially women.”

The Cardinal was a guest in Australia of Catholic Mission which has supported the Church’s work in providing emergency food relief, as well as by providing training for local families and promoting income generation.

More than 100,000 Ethiopians, most of them female domestic workers, have in recent months been deported back to the country from the Middle East where many suffered inhumane working conditions.

“They have gone there to serve,” Cardinal Berhaneyesus told a Mass in Sydney last month, “but after being used, then they are discarded.”

The Cardinal told Mass attendees in Perth: “We receive these people when they come back; the Church receives them with open arms, to give them hope for the future, not to despair”.

“There are also possibilities to offer them trades, opportunities to have vocational training … so that they can transform themselves from within – themselves and the country. And in that project, also, we have Catholic Mission with us.”

Cardinal Berhaneyesus is also no stranger to tribulation, having once been incarcerated in 1979 for a period of seven months – one of which was spent in solitary confinement – by the reigning Marxist government.

Some years later, when the Marxist government had been deposed, the then Fr Berhaneyesus visited his one-time persecutor in jail, inspired by the witness of Saint John Paul II, offering him forgiveness and to advocate for his release, an offer that was gratefully accepted.

Arriving in Australia as the 2022 election was taking place, Cardinal Berhaneyesus praised the prospect of a peaceful transition of power in Australia, as well as praying for the success of the Fifth Plenary Council.

“The Catholic Church in Australia is a big Church with a big responsibility. You are having your own synod, which is very important.

“It is the faith which you have received from your forefathers. They have planted the faith in this country …

“As we thank you, the Catholics of Australia, we would also like you to continue to pray that the Catholic Church in Ethiopia, a small percentage of the population, will continue to be a Church serving the people the Lord has entrusted to it.

“And, with your help, we’ll be able to continue to be signs of hope … We’ll be able to proclaim (the Good News), just like the apostles who received the Holy Spirit.”

To support community projects in Ethiopia, visit Catholic Mission at www.catholicmission.org.au