“The purpose of the brutal actions of the Eritrean government was to divest the Church of all services in the areas of education and health. Our work is to be restricted only to our places of worship,” Father Mussie Zerai explained to the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Father Zerai lives in Rome and coordinates the pastoral work for Eritrea and communities in Europe. These are on the rise because thousands of people are leaving their homeland each year.
Their numbers may grow even larger now after the brutal actions carried out by the government of the northeast African country against Christian facilities, In mid-June, the Eritrean military forcibly occupied and closed 21 hospitals and medical facilities run by the Catholic Church. The patients were more or less thrown out of their beds. The military smashed windows and doors and pressured the staff, Father Zerai said. He reported that the director of a hospital in northern Eritrea, a Franciscan sister, was even arrested when she resisted the closure.
“There is no justification for the actions of the regime. It punishes those who are taking care of the poorest of the poor,” Father Zerai said. As the priest pointed out, the more than 200,000 people who receive treatment year after year at health care facilities run by the Church will suffer far more from this than the Church staff. “Most of the patients weren’t Catholics, but Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and members of other religions. The facilities are often located in remote areas,” the priest explained.
The course of action taken by the government is nothing new. Eight health care centres were already closed last year, Father Zerai pointed out, but what is new is the level of brutality.
The reasons for this are unclear. Observers from outside of the country have suggested that, in the eyes of the government of President Isaias Aferwerki, the Church has become too self-confident in its efforts to further the peace process with Ethiopia. They believe that the government wants to have sole control of the social sector and is basing its actions on a law passed in 1995. The situation is clear for Father Zerai: “The government is obsessed with having control over everything and everyone. It sees the Catholic Church as a threat because we are part of an international network and ask questions.”
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SOURCE: Mercatornet, Tobias Lehner