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The tragedy of Ethiopia tends to be far removed from most Americans. Recently a passionately eloquent witness to the long years of struggle came to the New York offices of Catholic Near East Welfare Association to express the gratitude and to share the experiences and needs of his people.
Abba Weldemariam is a Catholic priest from northern Ethiopia and an ardent advocate for the people suffering in that remote area. He visited the United States to raise awareness of the problems they endure.
Ethiopia has been torn asunder by a civil war that has divided its north and south for 40 years. Abba Weldemariam works amid the desolation and desperation of the northern area, known as Eritrea.
He reports that Eritreans have reached the limit of their tolerance. The situation now is at a critical point. Abba Weldemariam sees an opportunity in this moment: Everyone is now convinced guns wont work. Peace is possible as both sides recognize everyone is losing. Everyone is suffering. Both sides need help. The people want to be free.
The Vincentian missionary describes what his people endure on a daily basis when he says, People are unable to sleep all night because violence and gunfire do not rest. Missiles have become an unfortunate everyday sight.
In Ethiopia the Church serves the poor and needy by struggling to achieve justice for them. This priest sees the opportunity for peace through eyes of faith: We need the peace Christ came to bring His people. We want to beg the government to spare the lives of our people. There is plenty of room for all of us. We are fed up with war. We want peace!
Talking about peace should not hurt anybody. The whole world knows so much about war but no one seems to know anything about peace, he says.
He is looking for partners in his quest for peace. His message is simple: Help us help. We can help each other help the people. Help us instruct our young people that there can be life without war.
He begs for moral as well as financial assistance. I am here on behalf of the Church, which I love. We are daily breathing war. Your care helps us find life and hope. Americans have demonstrated their interest in our people, in the Church in Eritrea. I offer you big thanks not just for filling up our bellies, but for filling up our hearts with hope and so building up our Church. We are Catholics. Thank you for helping us.
Catholic Near East Welfare Association helps Abba Weldemariam serve his people and especially supports his efforts to train more workers priests and religious to reach more members of that struggling population.
Joseph Cornelius Donnelly is CNEWA’s Director of Communications.