English Africa Service – Vatican City
First, to be seized were hospitals and clinics.
In all 29 Catholic health facilities have been forcibly taken over and shut down by the Eritrean government. In some cases, this has left the country’s most vulnerable without access to any medical facility.
Now, the government has escalated the takeovers. Some observers say that Eritrea is punishing the Catholic Church for being outspoken against the government of President Isaias Afwerki, in power since the country gained independence in 1991.
In the recent nationalisations, the government also seized schools belonging to the Protestant and Muslim faiths.
If this is not hatred against the faith, what else can it be?
In their 4 September letter to the Eritrean Minister of Public Education, Semere Re’esom, the Catholic Bishops wonder why they are being targeted.
The Archbishop of Asmara, Menghesteab Tesfamariam M.C.C.I.; Eparchy of Barentu Bishop, Thomas Osman O.F.M. Cap.; Eparchy of Keren Bishop, Kindane Yebio and Eparchy of Segheneity Bishop, Fikremariam Hagos Tsalim, jointly signed the letter. In it they ask, “If this is not hatred against the faith and religion, what else can it be? By removing children and young people from structures capable of forming them to the supreme values of the fear of God and the moral law, what kind of new generation are we preparing for the future of this country?” they ask.
Arbitrary and unilateral
The Bishops say they have in the past sought audience with government officials but in vain. It would seem the government is not willing to dialogue.
We will not stop “raising our voice of protest against the arbitrary and unilateral moves concerning the nationalisation of our clinics, schools and basic infrastructure,” reads the letter to the minister.
The Bishops say running the said institutions is part of the mission of the Church.
Prime victims are the citizens
The Church is surprised that Catholic schools have been closed when, in fact, they have been offering quality education to some of the country’s needy children.
“We declare ourselves unwilling to compromise given the violations of the rights and duties that we are entitled to as citizens and believers. Do not forget that when we are deprived of these rights, the first victims are the men and women of this country,” the Bishops remind government.
A troubled relationship
Although Eritrea is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country, the relationship between state and religion has been a troubled one since the country’s independence in 1991. In recent months, the ongoing severe restrictions on the freedom of religion have led many to describe the state as an example of religious persecution in the world.