In the current edition of ONE, journalist Emeline Wuilbercq reports on efforts by the Catholic Church to help build stronger families in Ethiopia. She offers some additional impressions below.
In January, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. National reconciliation and the peace agreement signed with Eritrea were mentioned during their exchange.
This visit was an opportunity to highlight the contribution of the Catholic Church in Africa’s second most populous country, which is considered one of the oldest Christian nations.
Despite the small number of Catholics — they represent less than 1 percent of Ethiopia’s estimated 105 million people, according to the 2007 census — the Catholic Church is highly respected. It supports health and education and administers a few hundred schools throughout the country.
But the presence of the Prime Minister at the Vatican was also very symbolic. He is a devoted Pentecostal, his father is a Muslim and his late mother was a Christian Orthodox. The visit underscored his tolerance and respect for other people’s spiritual beliefs — qualities that characterize many Ethiopians. This has always impressed me since I arrived in the country in 2015. Here, people from different religions live together peacefully. They respect one another. They even celebrate together major religious festivities. But, they mostly don’t interfere in each other’s practices and formalities.
For instance, in January, while I was reporting on a workshop on marriage and conflict resolution for Catholic families, the first couple I met in the town of Wonji were remarkably candid. They were willing to share their experiences to people from different religious backgrounds, in a very respectful manner.
Those who attended this carefully crafted workshop are expected to spread Catholic values — such as dialogue, patience, tolerance and spirituality — in their own communities and create a network of strong Catholic families that can live and prosper as one.
Conscious of the religious diversity in their country, Belay and Adanech, the main subjects for my story in ONE magazine, were sharing their experiences without imposing their beliefs. They were giving advice to their neighbors “as a family,” not specifically as Catholics. That shows how the Catholic community is willing to help and advise individuals from various backgrounds, all while following the words of Jesus Christ: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)
That also shows the uniqueness of Ethiopia.
The respect for religious diversity is far from the global norm. But living together harmoniously is possible. Ethiopia offers the world a beautiful example.
Read more about why Family Matters in the March 2019 edition of ONE.