Catholic hospital closures in Eritrea: ‘It is like amputating one of the Church’s arms’

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Catholic hospital closures in Eritrea: ‘It is like amputating one of the Church’s arms’

By Tobias Lehner/ churchinneed.org

“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,” an Eritrean priest told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Father Mussie Zerai lives in Rome and coordinates pastoral work for Eritrea and Eritrean communities in Europe, which are steadily growing as thousands of people leave their homeland each year.

In mid-June, the Eritrean military forcibly closed down 21 Catholic hospitals and other medical facilities. Patients were more or less thrown out of their beds. The military smashed windows and doors and harassed staff, Father Zerai said. He reported that the director of a hospital in northern Eritrea, a Franciscan sister, was 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. More than 200,000 people received treatment each year at healthcare facilities run by the Church. “Most of the patients weren’t Catholics, but Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and members of other religions. Many facilities are located in remote areas,” the priest explained.

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, and they believe that the government wants to have sole control of the social sector. Said 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.”

Since 2016, ACN has financially supported 44 projects in Eritrea for a total of about $1M. Support included aid to build chapels and Church facilities, funding for Mass stipends and vehicles to secure the mobility of priests, and subsistence aid for religious sisters.

Mon, 07/08/2019 - 11:44
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