Wednesday, June 20, 2012

St. Raguel Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Entoto

View of Addis Ababa from Entoto.
On our last full day in Ethiopia, Fr. Alexander, local superior of the Community of St. John, took us on an excursion up a nearby mountain overlooking Addis Ababa. It was the home of the Ethiopian rulers before the founding of Addis Ababa - a beautiful, cool height covered with fragrant eucalyptus trees. As we were ascending, we saw many women coming down carrying heavy loads of eucalyptus branches.

Woman carrying eucalyptus wood.
Situated in the midst of the eucalyptus forest on top of Entoto is the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of St. Raguel (Raphael), built by the Emperor Menelik II more than a hundred years ago. Prior to the construction  of this building, the liturgy as far back as 700 years ago in a cave on the grounds.

St. Raguel Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Entoto.
The shape of  Orthodox churches in Ethiopia is round. Just inside is a corridor that runs all the way around the structure. In the center of the building is the "Holy of Holies," where the actual liturgy is celebrated and only the priests may enter. This inner chamber is divided into three parts, one for the Father, one for the Son and one for the Holy Spirit. In the part dedicated to the Father is kept the tabot, the replica of the Ark of the Covenant. The walls of the Holy of Holies facing the corridor where the laity participate in the Eucharist are adorned with vividly colorful icons depicting scenes from the life of Christ and other events and personages from the Bible or Church history (see photos below).

The cave previously used for the Divine Liturgy. This portion was the "Holy of Holies,"
divided into three parts, one for each of the Persons of the Trinity.
As it turns out, almost at the same time that Jamie and I arrived in Ethiopia, Fr. Bernard and Br. Bonaventure (a newly ordained deacon) of our community also flew into Addis Ababa to direct a series of retreats and seminars for the Missionaries of Charity. Br. Bonaventure was able to join us for the outing.

An Ethiopian pilgrim greeting Br. Bonaventure.

Icon of the Theotokos, Mother of God.

The Last Judgment.

The Dormition ("Falling Asleep") of the Theotokos (Jesus is holding the soul of Mary, represented as a child).

Jesus appears to Thomas and the other Apostles.

The three young men in the fiery furnace - a very popular image in Ethiopian piety.

St. George and the Dragon. 

St. Antony of the Desert.

The deposition of Christ.

Jesus healing a blind man.

The woman with a hemorrhage touching the garment of Jesus.

You know who - and he doesn't look very happy.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ethiopian Pentecost Youth Encounter

Some of the more than 200 youth who attended the Pentecost encounter.
We had a number of different activities planned for our just over one week stay in Ethiopia. We attended prayer meetings, met with Church and lay leaders, visited several significant sites in the greater Addis Ababa area, and even attended a presentation about an early Spainsh/Portuguese Jesuit missionary, Pedro Páez.

Jamie accompanying the joint choir in "Lord, I Lift Your Name on High."
 The main event that was planned in conjunction with our visit, though, was a Pentecost Day encounter for the Catholic youth of the Archdiocese of Addis Ababa. Because the Catholic Church in Ethiopia follows the liturgical calendar of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Pentecost was celebrated one week later there, enabling Jamie and I to celebrate that great solemnity twice this year. The Brothers of St. John coordinate the office of youth ministry for the archdiocese, and organized the event with several of the larger Catholic communities in the capital. It took place in the Capuchin church of Holy Savior in the center of town. We had the pleasure of having lunch with those friars earlier that week.

Eritrean youth performing a skit.

The day was composed of a number of different activities, including songs sung by several different parish youth choirs. Jamie helped accompany the combined choir in an English-Amharic version of Lord, I Life Your Name on High. The Eritrean refugee youth group did an amazing job of performing a skit that depicted  our creation, separation from God and our return to Him through Jesus. In a multi-lingual setting (the Eritreans speak Tigrigna). A few days later we got together with those same refugee youth to show them the Jesus film in Tigrigna.

Fr. Herald speaking about the Holy Spirit (photo of Uganda Martyrs in the background).
I was asked to give the main talk on the day's theme: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and then you will by My witnesses (Acts 1:8)." I tried to answer the question "what kind of power?" by using four symbols of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament: Fire from Heaven- the power of love, Living Water - the power of new life; the Breath of God - the power of the truth, and Holy Anointing - the power of freedom. Since that day, June 3, was also the feast of the Uganda Martyrs, it was a great opportunity to present them as an amazing example of the Holy Spirit working powerfully in the lives of Africans.

The day concluded with a prolonged time of Eucharistic Adoration followed by Benediction. At the back of the sanctuary in the crypt chapel of Holy Savior (where the event took place) is a map of the entire world, flanked by two images of St. Francis of Assisi. It was a great backdrop against which to meditate and pray. This kind of extended silent adoration is something new for the Ethiopian Rite Catholics, as were many of the other elements of the day. But all was extremely well received by the youth and others who attended, and was a small but significant step for Catholic youth ministry in the country.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Addis Ababa

Left to right: Br. Iovane, Jamie, Fr. Alexander, Bishop Lesamu, Fr. Herald, Fr. John
I'm sorry that it's been more than two weeks since my last posting. On May 29, Jamie and I flew from Entebbe (Kampala), Uganda to Addis Ababa. We were extremely grateful to be welcomed by the Community of St. John (based in France), who have been working there for about three years. Our friars have often served alongside the Brothers of St. John in YOUTH 2OOO retreats and at event like World Youth Day.

Painting of the Queen of Sheba visiting King Solomon (in the Ethiopia National Museum)
Once again I was deeply impressed by the beauty, complexity and antiquity of Ethiopian culture. There is a strongly held belief that the Ethiopian emperors were direct descendants of King Solomon through the Queen of Sheba, who is thought to have been from Ethiopia. Related to this is the conviction that the Ark of the Covenant was brought by Menelik (the son of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon) to Ethiopia, and is kept to this day in the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum, near the Eretrean border. This helps to explain the strong Old Testament influence in Ethiopia Christianity, and the mysterious presence of Ethiopian Jews who lived in the country for centuries.

Giant public statue of the Lion of Judah in downtown Addis Ababa
Haile Selassie, the last of the emperors was overthrown in the 1970s by the Communists led by Haile Marium Mengitzu, and the current government has been shaped by that socialist history.

Communist monument (topped by a red star) in downtown Addis Ababa.
Additionally, Islam has coexisted with the other elements of Ethiopian society and culture for centuries, and it's presence is growing.

Mosque in downtown Addis Ababa.
Despite the fact that historically Ethiopia has been somewhat isolated as a country, the influence of secular Western culture is increasing.

A modern commercial building, complete with a Pizza Hut on the third floor.

A new building with an ultramodern design.

It's interesting to see how developing countries view the US and our leaders.

One of the many colorful fruit stands scattered throughout the capital.
And yet Ethiopia continues to be a country with a "foot in each world," so to speak. There are a surprising number of homeless and even mentally ill people living on and sleeping in the streets, and the specter of poverty and hunger seems to be lurking in many corners.

A mentally ill man dressed in plastic rags.
In the midst of all these complex and convergent factors, Ethiopia is a country of deep faith, in which Christianity has existed for more than 1,000 years. While most of the country (almost half) are Ethiopian Orthodox, the tiny Catholic population of 800,000 (less than 1%) is surprisingly vital and frutiful. I was privileged to concelebrate Pentecost Sunday Mass (observed one week later than in the Latin Rite calendar) at St. Mary Church, Cabana.

St. Mary Ethiopian Rite Catholic Church, Cabana, Addis Ababa
Fr. John (right) and I (left) concelebrating Pentecost Mass in the Ethiopian Rite.
More about Ethiopia next week...