People sped to safety as villagers ransacked church buildings in Ethiopia


Bishop Abraham Desta has expressed his horror after the torching and looting of a Church compound in Gighessa parish, Ethiopia, on 18 February by the very people whom the priests and Sisters were helping. Gighessa parish – one of the oldest and biggest parishes of the Vicariate of Meki – was attacked by villagers of all ages, even women and children. The mob started throwing stones, looting and destroying Church properties including the presbytery, diocesan pastoral centre, a small Ursuline convent and a clinic specialising in care for the disabled.

Having set fire to the presbytery, the attackers made off with more than 12,000kg of food including wheat, rice and pasta which was the pastoral centre’s supply for a whole year.  Not even livestock kept on a small holding attached to the parish was spared: cows and chickens were also taken by villagers. The only building in the compound that was not attacked was the school.

At the time the pastoral centre was hosting a conference on nursery education attended by over 55 people. All the conference delegates managed to escape unharmed but the Sisters at the clinic refused to leave. Bishop Desta said “The Ursuline Sisters who run the clinic were left behind with the patients as they were not willing to leave the patients alone, but the people did not spare them.” The angry crowd demanded that everything in the clinic be handed over. They took everything including personal clothes. Eventually the Sisters and their patients managed to get to the nearby parish of Shashamane where they spent the night. The patients are currently being cared for in Shashamane.

“They have lost everything, except the precious gift of life that is being given freely by God almighty. And sad to say all this [was] done by the people of the locality whom [the Sisters] were serving, whom they know very well – if not all [then] at least a good number of them” said Bishop Desta.

After the priests and conference delegates left, the mob returned. They set fire to the priest’s residence, the Toyota pickup car and destroyed all the other buildings. They also looted the centre, taking the furniture, including  more than 250 beds, mattresses, over 700 blankets,  bed sheets, bed covers, four to five fridges and deep freezers, washing machines, televisions, generators, copier machines, computers – even the kitchen, doors and windows were removed. The centre was left completely damaged and barren.

The Blessed Sacrament was left behind as the Priests and the Sisters were not able to return to the church but two young Catholic girls from Gighessa went the next day and took the Blessed Sacrament and brought it to the Shashamane parish.

Bishop Desta asks: “And today there is a question in our hearts and minds. Why Lord? Why like this?  I hope that in due time the Lord will give us an answer.” However, the bishop added that God had shown that he was with them throughout the attacks.

ACN Malta