Years of drought have left the wells in Ethiopia dry. Combined with recent conflict and the pandemic, the African nation has been crippled. Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel, president of the Ethiopian Conference of Catholic Bishops, is pleading for help through the Church’s Global Solidarity Fund. Michael Swan

Solidarity fund takes aim at Ethiopia’s needs

  • May 28, 2023

COVID, plus civil war and years of crippling drought, have dimmed the prospects for democracy in Ethiopia, made the lives of hundreds of thousands of refugees more difficult, devastated the country’s basic social infrastructure of schools, hospitals, clinics and social services.

The poor are poorer. The generals are in charge. The Church is left to pick up the pieces.

Cardinal Berhaneyesus Souraphiel, president of the Ethiopian Conference of Catholic Bishops, is urging the world to help through the Church’s Global Solidarity Fund.

“It is a very noble idea,” Jesuit Refugee Service-Ethiopia country director Solomon Brahane told The Catholic Register in an email. “Showing solidarity for the war-affected people by mobilizing resources and funding humanitarian and development works is a good idea.”

The Global Solidarity Fund has been raising money to address a variety of social needs since 2019. But it has recently been heavily promoted by Addis Ababa’s Souraphiel as a way of healing the wounds of war. The cardinal wants humanitarian aid to support “true justice and also forgiveness among the people,” Souraphiel told the La Croix International Catholic news website.

“The adverse effects of the war have been impacting millions in the country,” said Souraphiel.

The Global Solidarity Fund is focused on longer-term solutions, hoping to bolster 430 Catholic schools run by diocesan clergy and religious congregations, and the new Ethiopian Catholic Higher Learning Institute — ECUSTA — on the outskirts of Addis Ababa.

Freedom House classifies Ethiopia as “not free” with a Freedom Index score of 21. The war between the federal government in Addis Ababa and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front in the north of the country killed approximately 600,000 Ethiopians, displaced millions and generated a stream of credible accounts of human rights abuses.

At the same time, the country is host to over one million refugees, including 400,000 from Sudan and 600,000 from Somalia, Eritrea, Yemen and Syria. Following a peace agreement signed in South Africa in November, tens of thousands of war-displaced Ethiopians are now returning from the Gulf Arab countries.

The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs has identified over 20 million Ethiopians who need food aid now and another 4.4 million who need other kinds of assistance.

Getting aid and services to the people lays the groundwork for freedom, even if churches and their institutions are not political actors, said Argaw Fantu. Catholic Near East Welfare Association regional director in Ethiopia.

“The Church, whether the state is democratic or not democratic, but under whatever conditions that would allow us to serve the needs of the local people, the Church is always there,” Fantu said on a WhatsApp call from Addis Ababa. “So long as the state allows the Church to freely serve the needs of the local people.”

CNEWA is not part of the Global Solidarity Fund, but has continued its work supporting Church-run schools and health clinics throughout the war.

“The language of the Church is ‘respecting the human dignity of the person.’ In that sense, what the Church is trying to do is basically to help the integral growth of the human person,” Fantu said.

Money coming into CNEWA-Ethiopia from Canada and other donor countries “is not enough to renovate or to replace those damaged facilities of the Church,” Fantu said. On the other hand, the Ethiopian government and regional players are not interfering in CNEWA’s work.

“The Church has the freedom to serve wherever the needs are. In this regard, there is no restriction from the government side,” Fantu said.

Finding enough money to fix Ethiopia isn’t just a problem for the Church. The United Nations has appealed to donor nations for $4 billion and so far received $867.5 million, or 22 per cent of what’s needed.

“We do want to help Ethiopia, and we have been helping Ethiopia,” said Canadian Jesuits International executive director Jenny Cafiso.

Partnering with the Jesuit Refugee Service, CJI has funded projects to help forcibly displaced women and girls make it through the COVID-19 pandemic, run basic literacy programs for refugees stuck at the Ethiopian-Somali border in Dollo Ado, worked with urban refugees in Addis Ababa and run programs for Tigrayan Ethiopian refugees stranded in Kenya.

“Ethiopia indeed needs support to attend to the great need of the displaced population,” said JRS eastern Africa regional director Andre Atsu in an email. “The Church, faith-based organizations and the humanitarian actors have been pleading for help to support the needs (health, food, education, etc.) of people. … Now that the war is over, the urgency to look for funding is even greater.”

Ethiopia is a Christian majority country with over half the population belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Less than 10 per cent of Ethiopians are Catholics of either the Roman or the Ge’ez Rite.

Canada’s Minister of International Development Harjit Sajjan is touring Ethiopia, Egypt and Chad May 21 to 27 to visit Canadian-funded development projects. At the same time the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) is warning that around seven million Ethiopians are threatened by cholera. The International Organization for Migration is requesting $25 million over the next six months in the face of 100,000 returning Ethiopians and 85,000 refugees expected to enter the country this year.

“There is peace in the air,” Souraphiel told the Vatican News Service.

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