The Silent Death of Catholics in Tigray

October 25, 2022
Interior of the Church of Abreha and Absteha, Tigray

The bishop of the eparchy of Adigrat in Tigray, Ethiopia, denounces the “devastating genocidal war” of which the many Catholics of the region are the first victims. His appeal for international aid has so far not received the expected response. The conflict is spreading from that place, and now involves the armed forces of several African states.

“It is very painful and shocking to see horrific acts of brutal crimes, indiscriminate rain of artillery, shelling and bombardments of civilians, and then be unable to get support to treat them.” Will Bishop Tesfaselassie Medhin statement, published on October 4, 2022, be a game-changer? Very few people there believe it.

The conflict in Tigray, which erupted in November 2020 against a backdrop of ethnic rivalries and a territory prized for its copper and gold deposits, has been bogged down for two years. Two years during which the dead are counted in the thousands in this part of Ethiopia that rebels against the central power, and which concentrates the majority of Catholics living in the country.

The resumption of hostilities in the north of the country at the end of August shattered a five-month truce and launched the third phase of an interminable civil war between the insurgents of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and the federal government.

Since his last speech last April – in which he already denounced “endemic rapes” and the destruction of numerous churches – the bishop of Adigrat, in eastern Tigray, today urges the international community to “exercise their moral duty” and to be a “voice for the voiceless.”

But the war is being played out here far from the spotlight, especially since the intervention of the Russian army in Ukraine, which has focused most of the attention of Westerners.

However, a detailed report on the suffering of the Tigrayans was sent to the media by a nun from the congregation of the Daughters of Charity, Sister Medhin Tesfay, who exercises her apostolate in the heart of the Adigrat diocese.

She writes of “severely limited supplies and means of survival”: “On the streets of Tigray, it has become commonplace to see children folded over in hunger begging for bread and mothers desolately looking for anything to do to make sure that their children do not perish.”

And Sister Medhin Tesfay adds: “Hundreds and thousands of desperate people knock on the doors of the Daughters of Charity seeking critical support. There are scores more starving in their homes forgoing food for days on end to make sure that the meagre supplies they have remaining help them last for as long as possible.”

On October 6, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that included calling for an immediate ceasefire, condemning the Eritrean forces for invading Tigray and for war crimes. Indeed, Eritrea is now lending a hand to Ethiopia, its enemy of yesterday , in order to take its revenge against the TPLF, which waged a bloody war against it from 1998 to 2000, with the blessing of Addis Ababa.

For his part, Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the UN, demanded, on October 17, “the immediate withdrawal and disengagement of the Eritrean armed forces from Ethiopia.”

But there is still a long way to go from words to deeds, and Tigrayan Catholics risk paying a high price for a conflict that Cameron Hudson, analyst and former head of African affairs for the United States National Security Council, describes as “Africa's new great war.”

To date, in fact, it has been confirmed that several African States are militarily involved in Tigray: in addition to Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Chad, Niger, and Libya are playing an increasing role in a conflict of which no one can yet predict the outcome.