Asmara, June 13th, 2019
Council of the Catholic Hierarchs – Eritrea.
To his Excellency Mrs. Amna Nurhussein,
Minister of Health,
Government of Eritrea.
Asmara – Eritrea
Re: confiscation of the Catholic Church’s health centers.
May the peace of the Lord be with you.
It should be membered that, already in 1995, the Catholic Church in Eritrea had delivered to the government a clear and articulated written statement on the nature, spirit, and aims of her pastoral and social services.
Because of the intimate interconnection existing between the Church, her life and her mandate to serve, she has never dissociated such a service from her very existence. To cater to man’s needs in both the spiritual and material areas is for her simply an imperative To carry out works of charity for man’s holistic development and to contribute to the objectives of nation-building is for the Church not only a duty, but indeed a God-given right. In all such commitments, the Church is inspired only by the desire to serve, and never by aims contrary to the country and the state or, even less, by the ambition to replace the latter in its tasks.
It is history that in 1982, the Derg, on the basis of admittedly antireligious principles and policies, and inspired by unmotivated feelings of hatred and antagonism, nationalized, or else systematically weakened, various social institutions run by the Catholic Church. At that time however, at work was an oppressive alien domination: superfluous to say that from such an entity measures of that nature were to be expected. Our reaction to what happened then was obviously one of distress and grief. At the same time, however, deep in our hearts we cherished the hope of the liberation that was to come, of which the heroic struggle of our sons and daughters, who in those day dedicated their lives for that ideal, was a promise and a guarantee.
Archival records testify to the reiterated requests we submitted to the Eritrean government, after independence, for the restoration to the Catholic Church of the institutions nationalized by the Derg. Still most distressful was what happened on June 12th, 2019: people from different government quarters (the army, the police, sectors of health services) presented themselves to our personnel to claim the immediate delivery of the Catholic Church’s clinics and health centers; a fact that we cannot understand neither in its contents nor in tis manners. In some of those centers, soldiers were seen intimidating the staff and the personnel and forcing the patients to vacate the facilities; in other cases religious houses were rounded up and kept under guard. How is it possible for such things to happen in a state where the rule of law should be abided by? Is this the manner in which the government wishes to break, without the slightest sign of recognition, a cooperation that the Church has been offering in a variety of public sectors for decades, for the good of the people and of the nation? One thing is to declare that the state does not need the services of the Church, quite another is to claim the delivery of the legitimate properties and assets of the same Church. In fact, such a claim is absolutely unfair, unlawful!
Moreover, several health centers are located inside our religious houses: this being the case, to confiscate the former without violating the freedom and the vital space of the latter is impossible. More generally, to deprive the Church of these and other social institutions is tantamount to undermining her very existence and to exposing her members - religious men, consecrated women and the laity - to persecution.
Hence therefore, as we express our deep anguish at what is taking place before our eyes these days, we hereby firmly declare that we shall not hand over our institutions and their assets of our own free will. If we are to see things proceed the way they have started in the last few days, then we will have to conclude that the Church is put in a situation of open violation of her rights. It goes without saying that whatever initiative that avails itself of brutal force is due to bear serious consequences, of which the Church will disavow any responsibility.
Finally, we wish to declare that the Catholic Church is, as has always been, open to dialogue and mutual understanding. At the same time, we recommend that whatever action is taken in this natter be done with the highest respect for the rule of law and be conducted in a dignified manner and with due regard for the inviolability of the Church’s rights over her institutions.
May the Lord bless our country.
Abune Menghisteab Tesfamariam M.C.C.J., Archbishop, Asmara.
Abune Thomas Osman, OFMCap, Bishop, Eparchy of Barentu.
Abune Kidane Yebio, Bishop, Eparchy of Keren.
Abune Kiflemariam Hagos, Bishop, Eparchy of Segheneyti.
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