Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
Pope Francis received, in private audience, Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali, the Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
After meeting with Pope Francis, Prime Minister Abiy met with the Holy See’s Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, who was accompanied by Mgr. Antoine Camilleri, the Under-Secretary for Relations with States - effectively, the ‘deputy foreign minister of the Holy See.’
Initiatives and developments in Ethiopia commended
According to a Communique released by the Vatican’s Press Office, the Holy See and Prime Minister Abiy held cordial discussions. The good relations between the Holy See and Ethiopia were highlighted during the encounters. Ethiopia and the Holy See also focused on essential initiatives currently underway for the promotion of national reconciliation and the development of Ethiopia.
The volatile African region was also an area of discussion. It would seem that the Holy See is looking to Ethiopia, under Prime Minister Abiy, to help with the stabilisation of the Horn of Africa.
The Pope and Ethiopia’s Prime Minister also exchanged gifts. After the private audience, his six companions joined the Prime Minister, and they took pictures with Pope Francis to conclude the visit.
Pope Francis follows events in Ethiopia
Ethiopia has been on Pope Francis’ mind for some time now.
On 7 January, this year, the Holy Father praised Ethiopia under the leadership of Abiy for the historic agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
“In the course of the past year, there have been some significant signs of peace, starting with the historic agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which puts an end to twenty years of conflict and restores diplomatic relations between the two countries,” the Holy Father told diplomats accredited to the Holy See.
Good news from Ethiopia
Earlier, on 1 July, last year, after the Angelus in St Peter Square, Pope Francis showed that he has been following events in Ethiopia.
“In the midst of many, I would like to highlight an initiative that can be described as historic, and that is good news: in these days, after 20 years, the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea are talking of peace,” the Holy Father told crowds in St Peter Square.
Church and civil authorities must advance the common good
In fact, much earlier, on 9 May 2014, Pope Francis in an audience with the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia and Eritrea, in Rome for an ‘ad limina visit,’ expressed gratitude for the Church’ social programmes, in the Horn of Africa.
“Dear brother Bishops, together with the priests, men and women religious, and lay faithful of your local Churches, you are called to diffuse this fragrance of Christ in the midst of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Many years of conflict and continuing tensions, in addition to widespread poverty and drought conditions, have brought great suffering to the people. I thank you for the generous social programmes which, inspired by the Gospel, you provide in collaboration with various religious, charitable and governmental agencies, aimed at alleviating this suffering. I think especially of the many children you serve who experience hunger and who have been orphaned because of violence and poverty. I am mindful too of the young people who like so many of their friends and family would otherwise flee their homeland in search of greater opportunities, and risk losing their lives during dangerous journeys. And of course, we must always remember the many elderly who could so easily be forgotten in the midst of such hardships. Your efforts on their behalf, which give such a powerful witness to the love of God in your midst, are an extraordinary grace for the people. In your loving concern for the poor and downtrodden, may you continue to seek new opportunities to cooperate with civil authorities in advancing the common good,” said Pope Francis.
Prime Minister Abiy, a breath of fresh air in Africa
Ethiopia's young Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has been described as a breath of fresh air in Africa after the crop of “new generation” leaders of the 1990s, who seemed to promise so much, disappointed.
Soon after his ascension to office in 2018, the Ethiopian leader immediately went about introducing an unprecedented process of radical change and reform to his country. Many have remarked on the fact that the changes introduced by Prime Minister Abiy were almost unthinkable in not so distant a past.
Within a few months of being Prime Minister, Abiy lifted the country’s state of emergency, released thousands of prisoners many in jail for political reasons, allowed dissidents in exile to return home and unblocked hundreds of websites and TV channels. Then in a bold move, Abiy ended Ethiopia’s state of war with Eritrea. He did this by giving-up Ethiopia’s claim over a disputed border territory long claimed by Eritrea. In so doing, Abiy normalised relations with Eritrea once considered a long-time enemy.