An Ethiopian Odyssey: “The Real Jewel of Ethiopia”

We departed early yesterday morning for the Capuchin Franciscan Institute of Philosophy and Theology, located just at the edge of the growing metropolis of Addis Ababa. We left early to beat the traffic, but we did not do too well in this regard. There is always traffic in this capital of nearly four million people, as the city is growing at an amazing rate. There is construction everywhere as old buildings are leveled and quickly replaced with modern structures of glass and steel and concrete. The road system is not equipped to handle the congestion, let alone the many disruptions due to closed roadways and construction equipment. But we made our way, despite some closed roads and with the kindness of some construction workers and roadway workers along the way.

Greeting us at the institute was Abba Daniel Assefa, O.F.M. Cap., the rector. Abba Daniel is known throughout the country for his leadership and his scholarship. His credentials, especially in Scripture, are most impressive, as is his humility.

This seminary serves most of Ethiopia and also enrolls students from five religious congregations; in recent times, this includes religious sisters. The institute does not house its students; seminarians and religious return to their respective residences after class, where they study and meet regularly with their spiritual directors. There are five seminary residences in all, and most of them are in the city proper and have seminarians from multiple jurisdictions in each one.

Abba Daniel strives very hard to elevate the quality of education and scholarship at this seminary. Not only is he a respected Scripture scholar, but he is also an authority on early Christian history and tradition in Ethiopia. He works closely with Ethiopian Orthodox scholars and other Catholic scholars, in Ethiopia and outside the country, to discover and preserve this great heritage.

We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the facility, which is owned by the Capuchin Fathers. The buildings are beautifully laid out and the grounds are spacious, quiet and peaceful. You can feel the presence of St. Francis.

One of Abba Daniel’s many outreach initiatives is a program for the laity to study Scripture and theology. During night classes and through correspondence-style courses, the friar inspires, engages and encourages lay leaders to become more familiar with their Christian heritage and faith.

The seminary educates about 130 seminarians and some ten religious sisters. One of the sister graduates has recently completed her doctoral degree in patristics and is now on the faculty at the seminary. It was at the urging of Abba Daniel that her religious superiors allowed her to pursue further studies and a place on the faculty.

A pleasant part of our visit introduced us to a New York archdiocesan priest who is on loan teaching moral theology here. Father Donald Haggerty has been on the faculty since last October. He formally taught at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie, the heart of the Archdiocese of New York. It was a delight for both of us to engage in a friendly visit, bringing together two New Yorkers.

After leaving the seminary, and again through the kindness of some highway construction workers, we proceeded to drop in at the Asco School. This very new and brightly designed school facility educates about 900 children. Currently it runs from grades one to nine and plans to add another year of curriculum next year. The school is operated by the De La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools, who have an excellent reputation throughout the country. In fact, these Christian Brothers operate many of the finest schools in the country.

Unfortunately, because of serious delays in getting there, we did not have the opportunity to meet with the director or the community’s provincial. We left word for them about our difficulties in arriving and apologized for any disappointment that resulted. We did have an opportunity to look around the facility and were most impressed at the size and the design of this school.

The Asco School educates about 200 children who are H.I.V. positive and live with the Missionaries Sisters of Charity right next door on an adjoining piece of property. In fact, Blessed Mother Teresa’s sisters own the land on which the school is built. This partnership of the Missionary Sisters of Charity, who care for these children, and the Christian Brothers, who educate them, makes good sense and addresses both needs.

This visit marked the end of my pastoral visit to Ethiopia. Thomas Varghese and I hope to arrive in New York today in the early afternoon.

As always, it has been an honor for me to have your company on this journey of faith. The Ethiopian Catholic people, a very small minority, have been exceptionally warm and welcoming. And so have the many Orthodox believers and Muslims who have welcomed us as part of their family. And you have always been included in the good wishes, welcomes, expressions of gratitude and most importantly the promise of prayers from the poor.

The real jewel of Ethiopia is its people: they may lead simple and poor lives, but they are rich in honesty and faith. In many ways, this has been a retreat of sorts. I thank each and every one of you for your prayerful support and your generosity as members of this one CNEWA family. By sharing what God has given to us with the poor in Ethiopia, we ourselves have been richly blessed.

Next stop: New York. God bless Ethiopia and God bless you.

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