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...

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