The Catholic Church and the Government in Eritrea

All it started on the 18 of September 2017 when the Education Minister of Zoba Maekel sent a letter to the director of Medhanie Alem Secondary school of Asmara, which was ordering to close the school and to report to the Zoba Maekel branch the list of all the students. The letter was copied to the Minister of Education, to the office of the Eritrean police, and to the chief of the Eritrean police of Zoba Maekel.

The letter was citing the proclamation of 1995, in which, at that time, the provisional government of Eritrea declared that all the social activities (private schools, clinics, orphanages, etc.) must be done only by the government. The churches must confine themselves on doing spiritual duties to their own faithful. At that time the Catholic Church expressed itself on saying, “This is against their own mission and that cannot be accepted.”

The government of Eritrea tried to implement this proclamation three times in the past and this is the fourth time: in 1998, 2007, 2011. Always the church raised its voice to defend the right to run any social service activities. Nothing happened until now, but now it seems that things are going further, so the government imprisoned the sister working at the pastoral office in Asmara, a Combonian, Sr. Tinsae and the administrator of the school, Abba Haile Paulos, a diocesan priest (he volunteered to be imprisoned in replacement of Sr. Tsigewoini, the director of the school).

Since all 4 Catholic bishops were outside the country, the heads of the religious congregations (orders) gathered together to discuss the matter. They agreed not to give up and resist as in the past. They thought the government was doing the same acts as it did with the Orthodox’ school of Enda-Mariam and the Moslem’s school of Akhria. But lately, it came to be known that the cabinet of the ministers had had a meeting two months ago and discussed about education and healthcare. Information from anonymous sources was reported that the government discussed much about the Catholic Schools and Clinics. Then the government decided to implement the proclamation of 1995 at any cost.

Some church leaders tried to meet the government institutions involved in the implementation of this act, but they couldn’t discuss the matter, because the government officials said, “It was an order and you must do it.” The church leaders refused to close the school, so the government closed the school and imprisoned a sister and a priest. It will be seen on how the Catholic Archbishop and the other three Catholic bishops will handle the matter now that they all are back in Eritrea.

The relation between the Catholic Church and the Eritrean government was never good. The government is not openly persecuting Catholics (as it does with the Pentecostal and some rebellious orthodox monks and priests), but it tried to isolate the Catholic Church by not permitting its seminarians, priests and religious to go abroad for further education. The primary reason is, because the Catholic Church objects  sending its seminarians, young priests and vowed religious women and men to the unlimited military service.

The government doesn’t allow any religious general superior to get in Eritrea for normal business of meetings, aggiornamento and visit with affiliate congregations or orders. The government is controlling all the movement of the Catholic Church; it does not allow the church  to work properly in its social service activities.

The leaders of the Catholic Church are trying to do their normal duties like writing pastoral letters without fear of retaliations. The people appreciate all the Catholic Church’s social works. Now the Catholic Church is in a very serious trouble. The Catholics feel they must resist to their best resist ability stating, “What is left  may very well be imprisonment, death and closing all of the Catholic Church activities.” God is with Us!!!