Four Eritrean Catholic Bishops Issue Pastoral Letter Decrying Emigration

The carefully crafted but politically motivated letter published by the pastors comes following their extended visit and meeting with the Catholic Pope in Vatican. Was it really sincere?
The carefully crafted but politically motivated letter published by the pastors comes following their extended visit in the Vatican and a meeting with the Pope. Was it really sincere?

By Vatican Radio,

The Catholic Bishops in Eritrea have issued a pastoral letter marking the 23rd anniversary of the country’s independence, which was celebrated on May 25, 2014.

The letter is entitled “Where is your brother?” and addresses the crisis of emigration in the country. Thousands of Eritreans have fled the country, seeking a better life in Europe. Many of them die trying to cross the Mediterranean, as happened off the Italian island of Lampedusa on October 3, 2013.

The bishops explore the causes of emigration, stating “there is no reason to search for a country of honey if you are in one… Instead of Eritreans aiming to leave their country, those who are in the Diaspora should have returned….it is not rational to simply ask why our youth are leaving to foreign countries.” 

It said the young people of Eritrea leaving in search of “peaceful countries.. countries of justice, of work, where one expresses himself loudly, a country where one works and earns.”

“On top of the crisis of people leaving their country,” the letter continues, “the family unit is fragmented because members are scattered in national service, army, rehabilitation centers, prisons, whereas the aged parents are left with no one to care for them and have been spiritually damaged. And all that combined is making the country desolate.”

The four bishops are Mengsteab Tesfamariam, Eparch of the capital Asmara; Tomas Osman, Eparch of Barentu; Kidane Yeabio, Eparch of Keren; and Feqremariam Hagos, Eparch of Segeneti. The letter was published by the Awate website on Monday.

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Who is Bishop Mengsteab Tesfamariam?

THE four Bishops first made an official visit to Vatican along with Ethiopian Catholic Bishops at the beginning of last month. Read “Pope Francis affirms Ethiopian, Eritrean bishops as model of unity“.

There are reports that the above four Eritrean Catholic Bishops, led by the Eparch of Asmara, Bishop Mengsteab Tesfamariam, met and spent a considerable time with one of the anti-Eritrean Vatican based priest by the name of Don Mussie Zerai.

Since we don’t want to put words into your mouth, we simply put all the facts at hand so that you help connect the dots for yourself. What is the purpose of the letter? Why only the Catholics and why not the Orthodox Christians? and how much do we know about Bishop Mengsteab Tesfamariam in the first place prior to this pastoral letter?

Lets’ see what the Wikileaks has to say about the bishop and its anti-government and anti-national service stance since he assume office.

1) The Catholic Church Says NO

Since the middle of November, the Government of the State of Eritrea (GSE) has directed all the four official religious institutions in the country (the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Eritrean Orthodox Church and the Islamic institution ) to submit the names of all religious leaders/priests in order to enroll them into national and military service.  To date, all but the Catholic Church have complied with the request.  The Catholic Church has said they intend to formally refuse the GSE’s directive but have offered to work with the GSE to find a compromise solution.

2) The GSE has accused the Catholic Church of hiding young men in the seminaries, congregations and priesthood as a means to keep them out from fulfilling their national and military service obligations.  The Bishop of Asmara, Abune Menghesteab Tesfamariam, repeatedly has denied these allegations. In a December 18 meeting with the US Ambassador, the head of the Catholic Secretariat, Father Abba Uqbagaber Woldeghiorghis, said the three other official religious institutions had received similar requests and subsequently complied.

3) A response letter signed by Bishop Meghesteab Tesfamariam a week later states that for the nearly 120 priests, military service is a violation of their holy orders and contrary to canon law. The Bishop further noted in the letter that for the priests, the Church would be willing to discuss with the GSE a form of alternate, non-military, national service…. Unless the GSE agrees to the Church’s conditions, they will not provide a list of priests and seminarians.

4) The Catholic Church seems well aware of its vulnerability to possible GSE reprisals for its stance.  In a separate conversation with Poloff, the British Ambassador mentioned that he had spoken with Bishop Menghesteab on December 11 and Menghesteab speculated that the GSE might attempt to depose and replace the Catholic Church leadership.

5) Post has heard from multiple sources that the other three official religious institutions have complied without protest to the GSE directive.

6) The officially registered Evangelical Lutheran Church also handed over their small list of 10-15 pastors.  The head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Rev. Asfaha Mehari answered when asked by Poloff why, he said “the service of the nation supersedes church requirements.

We are talking about a 2006 U.S. Embassy cable as leaked by Wikileaks and thanks to the reveleation now we know that our Abun Menghesteab Tesfamariam is a certified, anti-government and National service religious leader residing at the helm the capital Asmara.

I will leave the judgement for the readers.