In southern Ethiopia, says Sr Maureen Elliott, the people are ‘able to see the love God has for
them expressed within their Church
The Catholic Church in Ethiopia is fertile and vibrant, according to Australian missionary Sr Maureen Elliott.
more people completing the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults programs than there are actual members, she said.
Sr Maureen spent several years in southern Ethiopia as a diocesan coordinator. It is the
role of missionaries to help establish dioceses and eventually hand them over to local clergy and religious.
Although the first southern Ethiopians were ordained only 10 years ago, their numbers too, are
So why is this Church so alive?
“Because the people are able to see the love God has for them expressed within their Church communities, which are the first to respond in frequent
times of distress,” says Sr Maureen.
“The Church is concerned with pastoral care, education, health, human promotion, agriculture and development.”
When Sr Maureen first arrived in the country to help
establish the diocese, the missionaries chose a symbol for their work: It was a tree stump with deep roots and a fresh new shoot growing out of it.
“This is an image that I find meaningful for the whole of
the Catholic Church in southern Ethiopia,” says Sr Maureen.
Although it is the missionaries who help get things started, the root truly spreads through local clergy and religious.
“These young men and
women religious have commitment, often travelling long distances on foot or by mule to their chapels, staying in remote areas and living with the people under very basic conditions.” says Sr Maureen.
So how can the role of the missionary be described?
Sr Maureen quotes a fellow missionary, Sr Majella Tracey: “Wherever missionaries insert themselves into the hopes, struggles, pains and joys of a people,
they become with those people partners in discovering the liberating and utterly transforming power of the Gospel.
“And this is the gift they bring back to Australia – a personal experience of conversion to
Gospel they had not previously experienced.”
It is an observation bearing out the sentiment expressed by Pope John Paul II in his message for this year’s Mission Sunday.
“The call to mission acquires a
singular urgency, particularly if we look at that part of humanity which still does not know Christ or recognise him,” he said.
“I hold impressed in my heart the face of humanity that I have been able to
contemplate during my pilgrimages: this is the face of Christ reflected in that of the poor and the suffering, the face of Christ mirrored in those who live like ‘sheep without a shepherd.’
“Every man and woman has the right to be taught ‘many things’.”