I have just come from a wonderful dinner at the home of my host here in Ethiopia, Gerry Jones. His wife prepared a great meal for Thomas Varghese and me and we enjoyed our visit, sharing many of the impressions, observations and insights of my pastoral visits thus far in this beautiful country. Let me share with you, my CNEWA family, what I have been doing these past two days.
On Saturday, our first stop took us to the Kidane Mehret Children’s Home. It is truly an orphanage; most of the 130 resident children have no parents and are completely dependent on the care given there.
The director is Sister Lutgarda Camilleri of the Franciscan Sisters of the Heart of Jesus, a Maltese national who has worked either at the orphanage or at the school next door for more than forty years. She is a dynamo: a combination of a grandmother that everyone would cherish and a religious sister who commands tremendous respect and can bring anyone to attention with a glance or a word of admonition. She also strikes me as a person with great savvy with the government authorities. You know the type: Give them a little grandmotherly charm and, if that does not work, look right into their eyes and tell them they are wrong. Case closed.
Sister Lutgarda and her crew of two other sisters, dedicated staff members and a rotating crew of volunteers provide amazing loving care to children as young as a few months and up to the age of 16. Many of those in her charge are street children brought here by police or child welfare officials. Sometimes, the officials show up at her doorstep with more than 20 at one time. Exasperated a little, but never overwhelmed, Sister Lutgarda welcomes them into the family.
CNEWA has been a long-time supporter of this institution and we should all feel proud of the good works done here. Her success rate, with some of the most challenging kids under her care, has been very good and many of her “graduates” have excelled in school and gone on to become productive citizens of Ethiopia. Some have even returned as professionals to offer their help to the sisters.
As a brief part of our visit to Ethiopia we also met Spiritan Father Brendan Cogavin from Ireland, who is the director of the school adjacent to Kidane Mehret. He once served as the assistant director of our CNEWA office in Addis Ababa when Brother Vincent Pelletier, F.S.C., served as director. Father Brendan is still very much a CNEWA man.
For lunch we had a most enjoyable and informative visit with Abba (Father) Isaias, the provincial superior of the Capuchin Fathers. He is a delightful man, very savvy and well spoken, young but very wise. I have heard his name mentioned many times as a real leader in the church in Ethiopia. I can see why he is highly regarded. His insights clarified some of my observations and validated others. The Capuchins are a major force in this country and are blessed with vocations.
We were happy to accept an invitation to enjoy dinner with the superior of the Jesuits, Abba Groum. Before our meal, he introduced us to a group of university students and recent graduates who work with him in campus ministry. They shared with us a sketch of the great work they do with Christian students studying in the many universities of Ethiopia. They are dynamic and very committed to sharing their faith with the young university population. Abba Groum is himself the chaplain of this ministry and is well known for his work with youth.
Needless to say, the meal was delightful and we had some great conversation with the other Jesuits in the house and a visiting Missionary of Africa from Ireland who has worked in this country for many years.
Today, we headed about one hour out of Addis Ababa to the Galilee Retreat Center located on a cliff overlooking a beautiful crater lake. The setting is idyllic and filled with peace. I was privileged to concelebrate Mass with the Jesuit who directs this center, Father Joseph Pollicino, S.J., a Maltese national who has worked here and in Sudan for many years. A special treat was to be in the presence of about 20 sisters who were finishing their weekend retreat. Mass was particularly stimulating with the devotion of the sisters, their lovely singing and the peaceful manner of Father Joe. Coupled with this ambience was the captivating rhythm of the drumbeats of the young sister who put her whole heart into her percussion instrument, a beautifully decorated native drum. People come from all over to seek the tranquility of this retreat center. Many different types of spiritual programs are offered for youth, for religious men and women, for priests, for bishops and lay groups and interreligious groups.
After Mass, we enjoyed a wonderful meal with Father Joe and all the sisters.
Tomorrow I will have a dialogue with all of the Catholic bishops of Ethiopia, participating in a special workshop attended by all of them. I look forward to this visit and will share details with you in my next report.
In the meantime, I offer you the thanks of the many poor in this country whose lives are greatly impacted by your prayers and your generous gifts. Everywhere I visit I am asked to extend to you the gratitude of all here. So thank you, CNEWA family. May God continue to bless all of you.