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Ethiopian Traditional Values Versus the Social Teaching of the Church

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Submitted By solodeju
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Exchange 37 (2008) 124-155

Ethiopian Traditional Values versus the Social Teaching of the Church
Solomon Dejene
Research Student, Nijmegen Institute for Mission Studies, Nijmegen, The Netherlands Email:

Abstract Even if the Roman Catholic Church does not have a very long history in Ethiopia and constitutes a small minority of the society, her social significance is great in part due to the structural development programs she runs through out the country. The main aim of this paper is to identify how much the Church1 has made use of traditional systems and values in reflecting and communicating pastorally particularly in regard the Social of the Church (henceforth CST). By analyzing four selected pastoral letters, this article tries to spell out the strengths and shortcomings of the Church in employing traditional systems and values in giving form to the CST. Keywords Catholic social teaching, human dignity, common good, solidarity, reconciliation and peace, contextualization, Ethiopian traditional values

Introduction Most of the current national boundaries of Africa were drawn during the colonial period and do not reflect the socio-cultural, ethno-linguistic and religious compositions of the colonies. Although Ethiopia has successfully overcome European colonial power and survived as an independent state with the exception of a five year Italian occupation (1936-41), its contemporary national boarder is a result of the scramble for Africa. Moreover, with the introduction of modern education and the process of modernization, European ideas have taken the upper-hand in political and economic matters.2 In many ways, churches are no exceptions.
1 Throughout this article, where I write about Church and bishops I have the Roman Catholic Church and bishops of Ethiopia in mind unless otherwise stated. 2 Messay Kebede, Survival and Modernization, Ethiopia’s Enigmatic Present: A Philosophical Discourse, Asmara: Red Sea Press 1999. Tekeste Negahs, Education in Ethiopia: From Crisis to the Brink of Collapse, Uppsala: Nordic Africa Institute 2006.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2008

DOI: 10.1163/157254308X278558

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Even if messages of the Ethiopian Catholic Bishops’ Conference are not systematically documented and organized, the bishops have produced several pastoral letters and messages. Among the accessible documents the main sources for this article are four pastoral letters, namely, 1. The Church We Want to Be; 2. Message of the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia on the Occasion of the Third Elections of 2005 in Ethiopia;3 3. Post Election Message of the Bishops of the Ethiopian Catholic Church4 and 4. The Truth Will Set You Free.5 I have selected the first one because it is the first pastoral letter dealing with a wide range of pastoral issues such as social, gender, youth, ethnic, etc. issues. It is also the first pastoral letter to be published for the wider (Church) public. In regard the other three messages I have chosen them because they address issues that go beyond the denominational frame of the Roman Catholic Church and are the first ones to deal with exclusively civic and political issues. Furthermore, these three are built around the national elections of 2005 and so are interrelated with each other. Critical discourse analysis, specifically as it is worked out by Norman Fariclough, is used as a method to analyze these texts. Texts or more specifically language use has become ever more a significant element of contemporary social practices.6 A critical view on language use is a socially and religiously essential aspect in present day social and religious studies. Texts are produced and consumed in social contexts. As a social practice they are always in dialectical relationship with other social dimensions. They contribute to the shaping of the social; at the same time they are shaped by the social.7 Discourse determines and is also determined by the relations of power of their users. By choosing certain types of discourse, writers of a text invest in a certain ideology and power relation. Readers too make use of available discourses to consume a text in a certain way and delimit the meaning among the possibilities of potential

Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia, Message of the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia on the Occasion of the Third Elections of 2005 in Ethiopia. Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat 2005, et/Doc/Message_regarding_election2005.htm#Election2005, downloaded September 7, 2005. 4 Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia, Post Election Message of the Bishops of the Ethiopian Catholic Church. Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat, 2005, Postelection, downloaded September 7, 2005. 5 Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia, The Truth Will Set You Free. Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat, 2005,, downloaded January 3, 2006. 6 N. Fairclough, Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language, London: Longman 1995, 4. 7 L. Phillips and M. Jørgensen, Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method, London: Sage 2002, 61-63.



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meanings of the text. So in order to get insight into the meaning of the text at hand, it is essential to analyze it linguistically and as a social practice. In order to shed light on it, Fairclough’s three-dimensional approach will be used. First a linguistic analysis of the text takes place in which wording, metaphor, grammar, syntax, etc. are dealt with. The second phase will focus on the processes of production and consumption of the text. Producers of a text draw on certain texts and discourses in a particular way in order to maintain or bring about change in the existing discourse, ideology, power relations and the likes. Consumers too make use of discourses at their disposal to interpret the texts of the producers. The third level concerns inquiring the impact of the discursive practice on the social reality. Doing critical discourse analysis requires transdisciplinary dexterity integrating different theories within a multi-perspective research framework as linguistic theory and analysis cannot be adequate to analyze the non-discursive aspects of the issue at hand.8 Text and social practice are linked by discursive practice. It is through the production and consumption processes that texts shape and are shaped by social practices. By analyzing the documents in such a way, I will try to identify how much the text in question draws on among others existing Ethiopian traditional discourses. But prior to that, I will provide a global orientation of the frame and the context of this research. In the first section I will discuss the need for contextualizing theology. Then I will sketch briefly significant parts of Ethiopian history to be followed by a glimpse at the history of Christianity in Ethiopia. These two sections will help the reader understand the religious, the socio-cultural and the historicopolitical context of the country. The fourth section will present a summary of the four pastoral letters of the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia. I will then proceed with the analysis of the letters using critical discourse analysis method. Finally, I will draw conclusions and make suggestions. Before I embark on the content, it might be helpful for the reader to note the following points. In the footnotes Ethiopian authors’ names are written in full first then using only first names as Ethiopians do not use family names. Where two authors have the same first name, the initial letter of the second name is added to differentiate them. Because the 2nd or 3rd name is the father’s or grandfather’s name respectively, I find it essentially not compatible with the reality to use the second name as a surname. In the reference their full name is used persistently. EC after a book means Ethiopian calendar. A number


N. Fairclough, Discourse and Social Change, Cambridge: Polity Press 1992, 69-71.

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of books that are published in Ethiopia use the Ethiopian calendar which is 7 á 8 years behind the Gregorian Calendar (GC).

1. The Need to Contextualize Theology Up until the Second Vatican Council, missionaries aimed at planting churches. Reproducing a European church in African soil not only meant using European concepts while theologizing in an African context but also racializing the message of the Good News. Symbols that had European meanings were applied to communicate faith to people with different symbolic values. This was in a way disqualifying the existing local symbols as purely irrelevant for the new faith. Since the Second Vatican Council and the political decolonization of Africa, the idea of reproducing European churches is gradually fading out. The Catholic Church has set off a new course. Churches are encouraged to use local cultures to communicate the message of the Kingdom. But why should theology and the message of the Good News be contextualized? It is assumed that a culture oriented approach helps people to understand the message of the Kingdom better as people can give meaning to their faith in symbols that are their own. In the opening pages of the book ‘Models of Contextual Theology’, contextual theology is defined ‘as a way of doing theology in which one takes into account the spirit and message of the gospel; the tradition of the Church; the culture in which one is theologizing; and social change within that culture, whether brought about by western technological process or the grassroots struggle for equality, justice and liberation.’9 Concrete human experience in a particular culture and society is a tool to understand and communicate the message of the gospel. The understanding of the gospel is neither unchanging nor universally normative for all particular contexts. People’s understanding of a message is determined by the cultural context in which they live. If theology is not rooted in and nourished by a particular culture, it will end up alienating the very people it intends to serve. Therefore, it is essential to theologize from within a local situation. Through the interaction with local cultures theology gets a new dimension in which it reflects local situations; at the same time it transforms the local culture(s). It gains a new perspective by seeing itself through the eyes of the ‘other’. The Aggiornamento which the Second Vatican Council puts forward is necessary in both reading the signs of the time and involving in dialogue with

S. Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology, New York: Maryknoll 1992, 1.


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local cultures. It is in a way drawing on the Biblical message of the Kingdom of God (Scriptures) and the ancient deposit of faith (tradition) to address contemporary issues in an engaging way (situation). Dialogue poses a fundamental challenge and must be based on the recognition of the cultural diversity. Most of all theology must communicate incarnationally as God fundamentally reveals himself always in a concrete way, in a certain context and never in an-all-overvalid way. This God who has always revealed himself in manifestations that are understandable to His people is also the God whom the Ethiopian bishops would like to communicate.

2. The Ethiopian Case Among the mysterious aspects of Ethiopian history, its long independence and its claim to Solomonic dynasty until the dethronement of the late negussenegest (emperor), Haile Selassie I, stand out evidently. In order to grasp the history of Ethiopia, it is essential to have a clear understanding of not only the political meaning of this Solomonic dynasty but also its cultural and national significance along with inquiring into the secret of this long independence. With this respect, the book Kibre Negest (Glory of the kingdom)10 has played a significant role. The Kibre Negest was written in the 14th century. It can be considered as a kind of constitution of the Ethiopian state until Haile Selassie introduced the first constitution in July 1931. It is the source of the assumed Solomonic dynasty. It ‘can be considered as the founding myth of the merger of church and state’.11 Besides, it depicts a change of favour on the part of God from Israel to Ethiopia. Israel is disfavoured and Ethiopia is now chosen as it accepted Christianity in its purified form integrating both the Old and New Testaments. That is also the converging point of the religious (Biblical and divine source) and the secular power.12 Ethiopian history is full of power rivalry among regional powers. Even negussenegest (emperors) were contested. But these rivalries were never with the intention of disunity or secession. Regional power was a ground for competition and not separate identification. Conflict in traditional Ethiopia had positive objective in which it was the only mechanism for claiming limited liberties and
I translate the Kibre Negest as ‘Glory of the Kingdom’ instead of the common translation ‘Glory of the Kings’ because I am of opinion that kingdom is a better translation. 11 Messay Kebede, Survival and Modernization, 76. 12 Messay Kebede, Survival and Modernization. E. Ullendorff, Ethiopia and the Bible, London: Oxford University Press 1968. Sergew Gelaw, Kibre Negest, Addis Ababa: Ethiopian Languages Research Centre 1994 EC.

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regional rights in the context of Ethiopian unity.13 As the Solomonic dynasty is a nationalistic notion/emblem and not a hereditary or ethnic principle, any regional power could claim the throne. It was also the paradoxical source of Ethiopian unity. The cultural and religious aspect of it transcends ethnic particularism.14 My purpose in presenting the positive aspects of the traditional political system of Ethiopia is to implicate that it was appropriate for accommodating modernization and democracy if it were adapted in a proper way. However, Haile Selassie made the succession of the throne constitutionally a hereditary one, preserving it to his firstborn son. This caused certain regional and ethnic conflicts. Besides, his modernization policy dispossessed the nobility of its traditional power base. The system left them barely with any social responsibility. In fact, Haile Selassie compensated the nobility by giving them unjustifiable economic privileges and land which resulted in the discomfiture and degeneration of the class. It became merely a power that was intrumentalized to keep the central power. Thereby the traditional system of subsidiarity was replaced by an autocratic monarchy with Haile Selassie at the centre.15 The traditional authority which was based on merit became an ascriptive privilege thereby eroding the culture of positive competition and the mentality of respect for authority. However, the relative political stability of his reign, his role in the establishment of the Organization of African Unity and his high skill in international relations were among the positive traits of the system that still lives in the memory of Ethiopians. Haile Selassie was dethroned in 1974 by a military group that brought about an abrupt end to the ages old Solomonic dynasty. The military regime (Derg) continued an autocratic rule for 17 years. With its pseudo-communist ideology, its main pursuit was at any cost political unity and territorial integrity of the country. The Derg sensed that the rule of Haile Selassie had caused certain ethnic tensions. In order to ward off ethnic conflicts it accommodated linguistic diversity to the extent of implementing literacy campaign in 20 local languages for many years. At the same time, it set up local administration offices (kebele) both in the urban and the rural areas in order to indoctrinate and exert control over the grassroots. Movements with ethnic agendas that do not comply with its ideology
13 Mesfin Wolde-Mariam, The Horn of Africa: Conflict and Poverty, Addis Ababa: Commercial Printing Press 1999. 14 Messay Kebede, Survival and Modernization. Sergew Hable-Sellassie, Ancient and Medieval Ethiopian History, Addis Ababa: United Printers 1972. Mesfin Wolde-Mariam, The Horn of Africa. 15 For more details on this please read J. Markakis, Ethiopia: Anatomy of a Traditional Polity, Addis Ababa: Oxford University Press 1974. P. Schwab, Ethiopia: Politics, Economics and Society, London: Frances 1985. Bahru Zewde, ‘Economic Origins of the Absolutist State in Ethiopia’, Journal of Ethiopian Studies 17, 1984. Messay Kebede, Survival and Modernization.


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were banned or persecuted. By radically confiscating and nationalizing land and big companies, the Derg regime exacerbated the problem.16 This drastic measure was supposedly meant to create equality in the society. Instead it removes the urge for achievement and competition. Passivity and absolute submissiveness replaces ambition.17 However, it is undeniable that the literacy campaign has enabled millions of people to read and write in their own language or in Amharic among which thousands brought their education even to higher levels. During these 17 years Ethiopia won three times the prestigious UNESCO prizes for literacy. Even the nationalization of land (initially) profited tenants. Since the overthrow of the Derg regime in 1991, the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has been ruling the country with an ideology mainly based on ethnic federalism. The country is divided along assumed ethnic lines in 9 federal regions supposedly representing around 80 ethnic groups.18 By delimiting the regional territories from above, assuming to help oppressed ethnic groups, the current regime’s policy has caused a series of ethnic conflicts particularly in areas where diverse groups live.19 People’s personal and territorial identities have been defined for them on the basis of one criterion: ethnicity. Other alternatives have been blocked systematically. Parliamentary seats were made available mainly for ethnic parties. Ministerial posts are distributed based on ethnic affiliation. So, ethnicity has become the defining factor of the dominant political discourse. During the national census in 1996 people with mixed ethnic lines were obliged to choose one. This is being done in the 2007 census too. All these make it clear that identity is determined by the political discourse and merit is not the criterion for posts. Among the positive developments recently the making of the local language of each region the medium of education in the elementary schools is noteworthy even if the implementation may require still a lot improvement. It is significant particularly for a number of regions that have been deprived for generations. Regardless of the bureaucratic and political shortcomings, people have now the right to organize themselves. Another positive development is the fact that the youth is no more afraid of being conscripted for military services.

16 Mesfin Wolde-Mariam Ethiopia ke’yet wede yet? (Ethiopia from where to where?) Addis Ababa: Guramayle publishers 1986 E.C., 184 17 Messay Kebede, Survival and Modernization. 18 R. G. Gordon Jr. (ed.), Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 15th edition. Dallas TX: SIL International. Online version, downloaded December 10, 2006. 19 On the current ethnic politics see also J. Abbink, ‘Ethnicity and Constitutionalism in Contemporary Ethiopia’, Journal of African Law, 41/2 (1997), 159-174.

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3. History of Christianity and European Missionary Work in Ethiopia It is also worthwhile presenting history of Christianity and the missionary factor in Ethiopia in order to put things in perspective. Ethiopians claim that Christianity reached Ethiopia during the Apostles period. The story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 is apparently the assumed date in which Christianity reached Ethiopia. Research has proven that Ethiopia (the Axumite kingdom) had trade relations with Nubia, Egypt, India and Arabia as far back as 2nd century BC.20 Even if historical research could not verify that the Ethiopian Eunuch named in the Scriptures was in reality Ethiopian, the story has a significant factor in the self-understanding of Christian Ethiopians. Researchers assume that the gospel message reached Ethiopia long before Christianity became the official religion in the 4th century. According to historical records a certain Frumentius from Tyre was kept in Axum close to the monarch. He established churches and other places of worship in and around Axum. He was later ordained bishop and assigned in Axum. The king of Axum (ca. 330 AD), Ezana, was converted with his brother Shaizana to Christianity. The former got the name Abraha (he who illuminated) and the latter Atsbeha (he who brought the dawn). Frumentius got also an Ethiopian name Abba Selama (Father peace). In the course of the 5th century, the Nine Saints, a group of Greek speaking missionaries, mainly from Syria came to Ethiopia and introduced monasticism to Ethiopia and translated the Scriptures into Ge’ez (the then Ethiopian official language). Henceforth, a number of ecclesiastical literatures was produced.21 Another major development in Ethiopian Christianity was the contribution of St. Yared who is said to be the author of the Digwa (the Ethiopian hymnary), the founder of traditional education and music as practiced in Christian Ethiopia. Church hymns and songs were composed in Ge’ez. Indigenous liturgical costumes and rituals with Old Testament colours were developed. Throughout these developments Christianity encountered with the indigenous cultures of the kingdom. Thereby it transformed itself into a Christianity that shaped and is shaped by local cultures. After the expansion of Islam in Arabia and North Africa, Ethiopia was isolated from her traditional trade and political relations for centuries.
20 R. Pankhurst, The Economic History of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa: AAU Press 1968. Sergew Hable-Sellassie, Ancient and Medieval Ethiopian History. 21 J. Persoon, ‘New perspectives on Ethiopian and African Christianity: communalities and contrasts in twentieth century religious experience’Exchange 34/4 (2005), 306-336; R. Pankhurst, The Ethiopians: A History, Oxford: Blackwell 2001. Alazar Abraha, Saint Justin de Jacobis: Missionary Methodology in Eritrea and Ethiopia, Nairobi: Pauline Publications 1995. Sergew Hable-Sellassie, Ancient and Medieval Ethiopian History.


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Even if not in an uninterrupted manner, the Franciscans undertook a number of missionary activities since the 13th century. However, a serious European missionary activity took place in the 16th century by the recently established Jesuits. The situation was conducive as the Ethiopian kingdom was under attack by Muslim invaders supported by the Ottoman Empire. Ethiopia sought assistance from the Portuguese government to avert the danger of Islamic power. Even if the Ethiopian monarch received the Jesuits cordially, the Jesuits seemed not to have realized that Ethiopia had been a Christian country for longer than a millennium. They were contemptuous toward Ethiopian Christianity, cultures and traditions. They radically changed the Ethiopian Church, among others, re-ordaining priests and re-baptizing of the faithful. Besides, they abolished certain customs that had affinity with the Old Testament such as circumcision, food taboo and the likes. This aroused anger among the people. In their zealous work they defended the Church exclusively in its Latinized form. Their radical approach and condescension of Ethiopian cultures caused bitterness among Ethiopians despite the support they enjoyed from the king. Yet Catholicism survived for more than a hundred years in Ethiopia causing unnecessary bloodshed. King Susneyos who had by then made Catholicism the official faith of the State was entangled with rebellion throughout the country. As Catholicism in its Roman version could not win the hearts of Christians in Ethiopia, Susneyos abdicated the throne in 1632 to his son Fassiledes who immediately reinstated the Orthodox Church with its clergy. Fassiledes banished the Jesuits from the country and banned Catholicism.22 They were removed from the country ignominiously leaving a scar in the memory of Ethiopians. The following missionary attempt of the Catholic Church took place in the course of the 19th century. Mgr. De Jacobis, CM came to Ethiopia for missionary purposes. As early as 1844 he built a church and set up a seminary for tens of newly convert Catholics in the northern provinces of Tigray and Eritrea.23 Mgr. De Jacobis adapted not only the Ethiopian rite but also the way of life by living among them in huts like the ordinary people. His main interest was creating an Ethiopian Catholic rite with indigenous clergy educated both in Ethiopian and European ways. As he believed that his seminarians belonged

22 R. Pankhurst, The Ethiopians. Ayele Teklehaymanot, ‘The Struggle for the “Ethiopianization” of the Roman Catholic Tradition’, in Getachew Assefa, A. Lande & S. Rubenson, (eds.), The Missionary Factor in Ethiopia, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang 1998. 23 Eritrea was part of Ethiopia until the Italian colonization in 1889 and used to be called Bahere Negash. Up to today, the bishops of Ethiopia and Eritrea form one Bishops’ Conference

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to the Oriental rite he thought of sending them to Egypt to be ordained.24 However, he received instructions from Rome that Mgr. Massaia, OFM Cap, was on his way for apostolic work in the south of Ethiopia among the Oromo.25 Mgr. Massaia stayed in Guall’a, Tigray for a year and had time to see the method and spirit in which Mgr. Yacobis carried out his apostolic work. But as he went to the southern part of Ethiopia, he refused to use the Ethiopian rite even if the then pope Pius IX gave a grant to conduct the sacred sacraments according to the Ethiopian rites. But Mgr. Massaia considered diversity of rites as an impediment to the Catholic Church. So, he established Latin rite churches in the southern part of the country. While the northern part retains the Ethiopian Ge’ez rite the southern part uses Latin rite to this day.26 This has been regularly a matter of tension particularly among the clergy and religious.

4. Church Documents In this section I will summarize the four pastoral letters of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia. These documents mark a turning point in the pastoral service of the Church as they are new for the country. Being a minority Church covering not more then 1% of the Ethiopian population the Roman Catholic Church had never spoken out anything on social and political issues.27 Thus these documents could be considered as a step in the direction of engagement in society. Six of the twelve bishops were not Ethiopians but all of them could fairly speak Amharic, the official language of the country. Yet English is the medium of the conference, while none of them is a native English speaker.

24 D. Crummey, Priests and Politicians: Protestant and Catholic Missions in Orthodox Ethiopia 1830-1868, Oxford: Clarendon 1970; K. O’Mahoney, The Ebullient Phoenix: A History of the Vicariate of Abyssinia, Addis Ababa: United Printers 2002; Ayele. Petros S. Berga, What Happened to the Original Christian Unity in Ethiopia? Towards the Restoration of our Original Unity in Christ, St. Ottilien: EOS Verlag Erzabtei 2006. 25 O’Mahoney; Alberto Antonios, The Apostolic Vicariate of Galla, A Capuchin Mission in Ethiopia (1846-1942): Antecedents, Evolution and Problematics, Addis Ababa: Capuchin Franciscan Institute of Philosophy and Theology 1998; Crummey; Petros. 26 O’Mahoney; Petros; Antonios; Ayle. 27 There are no reliable statistics on religious affiliation in Ethiopia. But in order to give the reader a rough idea, I will provide the two most commonly used figures. Ethiopian orthodox 3753%; Muslim 32-45%; traditional beliefs 5-17%; other Christian 10% http://www.populstat. info/ out of which nearly 1% is supposed to be Roman Catholic (downloaded 02/05/07). Muslim 45 %-50%, Ethiopian Orthodox 35%-40%, animist 12%, other 3%-8% http://worldfactbook. com/country/Ethiopia/2005, downloaded May 2, 2007.


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4.1. The Church We Want to Be The bishops have put their common vision in their pastoral letter in 2002 under the title, ‘The Church We Want to Be’. Written originally in English, this historic document was spread in English, Amharic and later in Oromo and Tigrigna to all pastors and religious congregations and orders. It was published and put for sale through the Catholic book shop. The document has a brief introduction and three parts. The first part discusses the nature and mission of the Church in four sections. The first section gives a global definition of the Church mainly based on Vatican II. The second section elaborates it further by dealing with the divine and human nature of the Church. In the third section the bishops discuss the common dignity and mission of the members of the Church. Even if the Church is hierarchically structured, this structure would in no way imply fundamental inequality. Central to this section is encouraging the involvement of the laity. The fourth section discusses the mission of the Catholic Church in the world. The bishops try to make clear how evangelization can/should take place. ‘It is clear that (. . .) the mission of the Church goes beyond the personal salvation of the individual and aims at the transformation of the human society (. . .) It is a matter of causing an impact in the structures and values of the society in which the Church is present.’ (§ 24) It is, therefore, an ongoing process aiming at transforming society by the message of the gospel. In the second part the bishops address the main pastoral challenges to the mission of the Catholic Church in Ethiopia. This part is divided into three major sections. The first section is an introduction to the following ones. Quoting from the Vatican II pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, it tries to show how Christians are in a way interrelated with the entire human community. The bishops try also to indicate that there are external and internal factors affecting the whole societal situation in Ethiopia. In the second section they name two external factors affecting the situation in Ethiopia: globalization and donor fatigue. Only the former is discussed here. According to the bishops Ethiopia is being transformed from a closed rural society into an open urban and modern society. Cultural values of the past are no more important. Generation gap, crisis of parental authority and progressive decline of the strength of family and clan institutions are among the negative results of globalization. Such crisis of authority is also affecting the Church. And the challenge for the Church is how to proclaim the message of the Kingdom amidst a society that is ‘contaminated by the virus of neo-liberal capitalism’ where only profit matters. The challenge is even edgier to preach preferential love for the poor in a global context of structural injustice.

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The issue of internal factors is dealt extensively. Relating the minority position of the Church to a less number of faithful occupying influential positions in the world of politics, the bishops state that the Church operates prudently to disappoint neither civil authorities nor bigger churches thereby inclining to work alone. Rather than aspiring for a common theological and dogmatic ground, collaborations need to be exerted on the challenges and needs of the poor to facilitate dialogue. The bishops express also their concern for the professional Catholics of the past who have left without successors. The current federal administration is based on ethno-linguistic lines which in someway coincides with the ecclesial jurisdictions. The political tension is also reflected in the Church. Along with this, the richness of having two rites is also experienced by many as a source of tension. Moreover as each diocese focuses mainly on its regional agenda, it makes collaboration among dioceses cumbersome. For a divided Church ecumenical dialogue is very difficult. In their concern for the formation of priests the bishops appeal for a solid spiritual, human and academic formation so that priests could be adequately equipped to fulfil the mission of the Church. Appreciating that the war has ended with Eritrea, the bishops call for a further work in order to realize peace and reconciliation as they believe that peace is more than the absence of war. They also pride for having a unique body of Bishops’ Conference of the two countries. Confirming the equal dignity of women, the bishops call for the participation of women, especially consecrated ones, in the mission and pastoral work of the Church. The document addresses also culture related problems of women, among others, genital mutilation, imposed marriage, trafficking of women and marginalization of widows. Focusing on the situation of the youth, the scarcity of education and job opportunities are stated as central to the issue. Thus, states the message, not only the future but also the current situation of the youth is at stake. Finally, the bishops took a brief glimpse at the problem of HIV/Aids and would like that there be a good pastoral plan to address the problem. The third part presents the common pastoral vision. In this part the bishops come up with a number of statements describing their intention. I will state the ones that are discussed in the next section. The bishops commit themselves to ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is named as a natural dialogue and cooperation partner. The Church we want to be is a Church with different ways of liturgy, prayers and spirituality without a shadow of rivalry; a Church in which there is solid, human, spiritual and academic formation of priests; a Church looking for justice, peace and reconciliation despite the blood still fresh of the past war; a Church built on preferential love for and solidarity with the poor and the weak; a Church to all Ethiopian society trying to get assimilated by the different cultures in permanent dialogue;


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a Church built in the model of the family of God under the spiritual leadership of the hierarchy and the ordained ministry with a well formed and responsible laity; a Church open to the new generation; a Church in which the dignity and the role of women is acknowledged and integrated in her life; a community in the image of the ‘poor of Yahweh’ preferring modesty of economic means with participation of the people.28 In the conclusion part the document extends the challenges as challenges for the universal Church as a whole. The bishops commit themselves to a deeper evangelization involving the integral human person ‘body, soul and mind’. 4.2. Letters Related to the National Elections of 2005 The national elections took place on May 15, 2005. The preparation for the elections took place with high participation on open debates, sufficient access to the government owned media and the private press. It was also internationally highly appreciated. However, immediately after the elections both the ruling party and the major opposition parties accused each other of fraud and intimidation. This led to protest demonstrations against the government first on June 8, 2005 in Addis Ababa and then in the first week of November throughout the country in which apparently around 193 people were killed and hundreds wounded and thousands imprisoned.29 In the description and analysis of the subsequent pastoral letters the three messages will be taken together as they all are related to the elections. In the Message of the Catholic Bishops on the Occasion of the Third Elections in Ethiopia the bishops call citizens to participate in community life in a free and responsible way. In their message the bishops express that the Church ‘values democratic systems in as much as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility of both electing and holding accountable those who govern them and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate.’ Furthermore the bishops give some ethical guidelines for citizens to take into consideration while voting; namely, freedom of conscience, respect for human life, sanctity of life from conception, integrity of the family, freedom of religion and freedom of human rights. Besides, the
The Church We Want To Be. Figures are taken from the website of the The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost. com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/18/AR2006101801697.html, downloaded on May 4, 2007. See also reports of Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International http://www. on Ethiopia 2005 and 2006.
29 28

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document asks citizens to prioritize the common good of the country, building national unity, overcoming ethnic animosity and promoting reconciliation. Referring to the Catholic Synod of the Bishops of Africa the document opts for authentic democracy of pluralism. The document explicitly disapproves abstinence from voting by arguing that even one vote would contribute a little bit for a real progress toward democratization. The bishops denounce any political or economic pressure exerted on individuals to determine their votes. They also call all parties involved in the election to do their best so that it may proceed according to the rule of law. Finally they indicate that election is not an end in itself so both winners and losers need to work together accepting the results. Shortly after the first violence on June 8, 2005 the bishops express their disapproval of it in their brief message, Post Election Message of the Bishops of the Ethiopian Catholic Church, in which they appeal for peace, tolerance and goodwill. They call all concerned parties and all citizens to be responsible citizens and ‘to enhance the quality of the people’s lives by creating an atmosphere of mutual respect encouraging all concerned to take steps in promoting tolerance and mutual respect.’ The second post election letter, entitled The Truth Will Set You Free (John 8:32), comes out following severe violence between police forces and demonstrators in towns and villages at the beginning of November 2005. In this letter the bishops communicate both the message of the Scriptures and their conviction that the only way out of the impasse is searching for the truth. They link the violence mainly with failure to dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition parties after the election results were known. According to the bishops, opposition parties could play a positive role by checking and balancing in the social and political fields. Thereby they also warn that opposition for the mere purpose of opposing and a ruling party that radically denies all rights of collaboration to the opposition are a danger to democracy. While approving peaceful public disobedience, they call for a controlled police response to avoid violence. Finally they call all citizens, the authorities and the opposition to adopt a constructive attitude in order to solve the existing conflict by looking for justice and peace through the way of truth. ‘The truth will set you free.’

5. Discourse Analysis In this section, I will analyze the four pastoral letters using Fairclough’s threedimensional method. The first subsection deals with The Church We Want to


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Be. This letter constitutes a global vision of the Catholic Church in Ethiopia. In the following subsection I will analyze the remaining three pastoral letters. 5.1. The Church We Want to Be The Church We Want to Be is the first official document that was published in book format. Even though there is an annual conference of bishops, pastoral letters are not common in the context of the Ethiopian Catholic Church. Usually the decisions of the bishops are recorded and each bishop determines what he would do with them in his respective diocese.30 Among the several pastoral letters, this is the most comprehensive one addressing a number of issues. 5.1.1. Text In this paragraph I will pick out some parts from the letter to shed light on them. Going through the entire text analytically would be too broad for this article. Particular attention will be given to part II as it is in this part that the bishops depict the main pastoral challenges for the Catholic Church in Ethiopia. To begin with the letter was published in two languages (English and Amharic) of which the cover title is only in English. The English text takes the first half of the book. Apparently the title communicates the intention of the bishops using the phrase ‘want to be’ which is the transformation of the Church. In working out the legacy of the assembly of Catholic African Synod of Bishops, the text uses an ambiguous passive voice ‘a pastoral task for us to be implemented’ (§ 1) in which the reference ‘us’ is left open to interpretation as implying either the bishops or the Church as a community just like the ‘we’ in the title. It also draws on the call of Pope John Paul II for pastoral revitalization and using a passive voice — ‘(. . .) is also felt as a call directed to us’ (§ 1). In the introductory part, this is further expressed § 2 ‘we wish (. . .) the Church (. . .) be decidedly oriented’ and in § 4 ‘we should be (. . .)’ Here the change in modality shifts in which the intensity of the exigency of a common vision is determined. The paragraph dealing with lay ministries is formulated mainly in passive form. ‘Lay ministries should not be considered (. . .)’, ‘Lay ministries should be established’, ‘The laity are to be helped (. . .)’ The sentence structure absolves the agent of responsibility in such sentences. Who and how the ministry should be established, how and by whom the laity would be helped are not


Source: Fr. Tsegaye Keneni, Secretary General of the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat.

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clear. This might indicate that the degree of the affinity of the bishops to their statement is low.31 Although the letter touches a number of issues that have great relevance to the society, it does not exhaust one issue. At times a number of ideas are crammed into one subsection. For instance, in dealing with the impact of globalization on the Ethiopian society, the letter enumerates cultural gap, crisis of authority, progressive decline of the strength of family and clan institutions without elaborating what these are and how globalization is the cause. In the same subsection it expresses the challenge of evangelization in time of neoliberal capitalism and how to proclaim justice and the cancellation of debts when the determining factors are the free market and power (§ 29-31). These paragraphs are so congested with a number of ideas that it lacks cohesion. The letter names the problem of ‘being a minority Church’. The title of this section, ‘A Church of Minority’ is by itself ambiguous in which it implies the meaning of a church of a minority group. The idea of minority is further explicated in such a way that it might implicate a feeling of powerlessness and inferiority complex (§ 34). On the one hand, the bishops make it less strong by using the modal verb ‘might’ on the other hand, they try in a way to infer a conclusion from it — ‘that would tend to paralyze the dynamism and the prophetic energy.’ (§ 34) In the same paragraph, the text describes the current constitution as completely secular and criticizes it for not facilitating the practical application of the freedom it apparently safeguards. However, it does not indicate whether the problem arises from the nature of the constitution or its implementation. The words hierarchy/hierarchical and ordained ministry occur a number of times. The recurrence of these words signifies the importance of the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church. Although the overall tone of the text has the predisposition of understanding the Church as the body of Christ and a community of faithful, the text has some tendency toward understanding the Church as the hierarchy: ‘The Church recognizes the place of non-ordained ministries’ § 15, ‘under the spiritual leadership of the hierarchy and the ordained ministry’ (§ 56). By drawing on a classical theological discourse the reference to the hierarchy frames with the communal nature of the Church. By framing is meant that an idea is presented with another idea in which the implication is determined.32 By incorporating the hierarchical nature of the Church in the
Phillip and Jørgensen, 83-84. N. Fairclough, Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research. London: Routledge 2003, 53.
32 31


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text, the bishops clear any misunderstanding that could arise by defining the Church exclusively as a community of faithful or the body of Christ. In general the text has three characteristic traits. The introduction part is more of expository in which the bishops explain their motive and intention to write the pastoral letter. The first part is mainly descriptive in nature. Part two is a combination of expository, descriptive and hortatory text. It explains why and how certain things are the way they are. For instance § 28 and 29 explain how globalization has affected the Ethiopian society. In § 34 and 35 the text is both expository and descriptive in the sense that it describes the characteristics of the Church as a minority and explains the consequences. The third part can be categorized as a hortatory text in which the addressee is expected to act in a certain way. 5.1.2. Discursive Practice This stage of the analysis reads in depth the production and the consumption of the text. In order to get insight into the consumption of the text the author interviewed some (former) pastors, religious and active laity members, and sent a questionnaire to them. Their responses are analyzed as well. In the course of this research it was found that the letter was not read widely and so far has not been systematically applied in the Church. First of all it must be noted that the document was written originally in English. It was then translated first in Amharic to be published as a bilingual document. Later on it was also translated in Oromigna and Tigrigna, two other major Ethiopian languages. While translating the letter in Amharic it has most likely been overlooked whether certain concepts and principles could be translated in the local language. The translation in Amharic seems to lack adequate vocabulary and grammatical correctness. The translation of certain theological concepts and principles requires not only linguistic proficiency but also cultural and symbolic awareness. Certain concepts and thoughts could be present in one linguistic and cultural context and non existent in another. While the bishops speak from the perspective of the CST, the Amharic text lacks the conceptual clarity it ought to have in order to communicate the very common terms of the teaching such as, ‘common good’, ‘solidarity’, and ‘preferential option/love for the poor’, that are non existent in Amharic. As these principles have been central in these pastoral letters, the message is communicated in Amharic not only differently but also in an inconsistent way. For instance the translation of the term ‘common good’ reads in Amharic, ‘the salvation of all humankind’ or ‘wellbeing of humankind. The term ‘preferential love’ is translated as ‘intimate love’ or ‘close love’.

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By making use of (post) Vatican II Council theological discourse, liberation theological discourse, sociological discourse, traditional theological discourse, traditional discourse and other discourses, the letter can be considered as fairly interdiscursive. There are 34 footnotes referring to 15 sources out of which 2 are that of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia and Eritrea33 (ACBEE) and 2 are that of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa (AMECEA). The ACBEE sources are referred 4 times and AMECEA twice. One reference is made to a document by bishops of the USA. The remaining 27 references are that of Vatican documents. There are also 39 Biblical references three of which are in the introduction, 23 in part 1 and the remaining 13 in part 3 and none in part 2. On top of drawing on post Second Vatican Council theological discourse (§ 27, 35, 36) and liberation theological discourse (§ 31), part 2 draws mainly on socio-political discourse (§ 30, 31) and traditional discourse (§ 29, 30) in order to expound the Ethiopian situation. A somehow traditional popular discourse is also used in depicting globalization and its effects along with liberation theological discourse. A feminist discourse is also used in explicating the problem of women. It is noteworthy that no specific reference is made to liberation theologians while their discourse is integrated in the text. According to Fairclough a high degree of interdiscursivity is linked with change.34 However, conventional ways of mixing discourses are ‘indications of, and work towards, the stability of the dominant order of discourse and thereby the dominant social order.’35 They can, of course, contribute to the development of a new discourse. By drawing on texts of the CST, the Scriptures and
In 1889 Italy colonized Eritrea. Despite the fact that the current Eritrean territory was part of the traditional Ethiopian empire, the army of Emperor Menelik II did not go further than Mereb when it defeated Italy in 1896. However, when Italy’s second attempt to colonize Ethiopia failed after a five year war/occupation (1936-1941), Eritrea fell under British administration. After intense political negotiations for a decade, Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia in 1952. But again, nearly a decade later, the federation was dissolved and Eritrea was made a province in 1961. Even if they share common heritage the annexation led to an armed struggle that lasted 30 years and cost the lives of hundreds of thousands (See Bahru Zewde, A History of Modern Ethiopia: 1855-1974. London: James Curry 1991). In 1991 de facto and in 1994 with a referendum Eritrea became independent. The Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church too split into two and the Church in Eritrea formed her own Assembly. However, instead of completely splitting into two completely separated Bishops’ Conferences, the bishops decided to maintain their unity by retaining the Episcopal Conference despite particularly the refusals of the governments of both countries to issue visa for the bishops for a couple of years. The conference has taken place since 1998 in Rome. 34 Fairclough, Discourse and Social Change. 35 Phillip and Jørgensen, 73.


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certain political and social experiences and observations, the text tries to bring about change. On the other hand the fact that it draws on certain assumed traditional discourses, such as affinity to ones’ cultures, respect to parental authority and the likes, implies that it attempts to maintain the assumed existing order of discourse. In general terms the letter has a post Second Vatican Council point of departure particularly in its view of the Church as a Church in movement. Its very title depicts this clearly. At the same time, in a number of places the text accentuates on the hierarchical nature of the Church ascribing leadership in a way exclusively to the clergy (§ 13, 14, 15, 56) and making a clear distinction between consecrated and not consecrated women (§ 43, 58). While in its interdiscursivity with regard to the Church as community it implicates change, in drawing on classical theological discourse, it attempts to keep the dominant order of discourse which is hierarchical ordering of the Church. With regard to the theme of evangelization the textual reference to the encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi in § 21 seems to follow somehow a contradicting discourse with the overall tone of openness of the letter. The pope defines evangelization as preaching, catechesis, conferring baptism and the other sacraments and any partial and fragmentary definition would impoverish or distort it. At the same time the bishops express the need, the willingness and the readiness of the Church for ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue and cooperation with other religious confessions, (§ 35, 36, 48). In analyzing the social reality the text draws on various discourses. This is spread throughout part two of the letter. In its analysis of globalization it mixes sociological discourse, liberation theological discourse referring how globalization has affected the country in general. It draws on a discourse from the CST with liberation ideas when it refers to proclaiming the values of the Kingdom of God amidst the influence of neo-liberalism (§ 30). In the following paragraph too, it draws on the same discourse referring to preferential love for the poor. In its stern statement against the current global order it seems that the sociological discourse and the discourse of the CST have some flavour of anti-globalist discourse in its use of expressions like ‘the virus of neo-liberalism . . .) “free” commercial market (. . .) in a global context of structural injustice’(§ 30, 31). As to the process of the production and consumption of the text the responses of all the interviewed people have indicated that the letter was too global to be applicable. Prior its release a draft version was brought out for comment. The archdiocese of Addis Ababa organized a review workshop in which the draft was discussed. Pastors, religious and laity Church members participated in the workshop. The reactions were mainly highly positive not

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only because the content was highly relevant to the contemporary situation but also because such a pastoral letter was new for most people. Of course a couple of questions/suggestions were forwarded. One of them was to explicate the term ‘we’ in the title and in the text as the term could be interpreted as referring to either the bishops or the Church in general. However, the final text came out without any further explanation or change in this respect. The authors could have left the ambivalence on purpose in order to leave the decision for the reader in which both understandings could be possible. On the one hand, this can be associated with the two discourses in tension, which the bishops follow to define the Church as a hierarchical Church as opposed to as a community and body of Christ. On the other hand, by holding the two discourses together, it is possible that the bishops would like to make it possible for people with one or the other position. By accommodating both discourses the bishops seem to avoid radical change and disruption. The other suggestion made was to close the letter with a prayer to Mary like the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II. This suggestion was accepted and inserted at the end of the letter as Marian devotion is part and parcel of the culture of the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches of Ethiopia. Drawing on such highly popular devotion, the letter maintains the dominant order of discourse. A suggestion was also made to propose to seek ways in which it could be worked on integrating the Ge’ez rite with the dioceses in the south. This suggestion was made mainly out of pastoral engagement of some of the members and partly because the Vatican has also persistently requested the Ethiopian Catholic Church to develop an Ethiopian rite applicable throughout the dioceses of the country. Nevertheless, the letter came out with the original text describing that having two rites could be richness. At this juncture it is not possible to come up with a clear-cut answer as to why the letter was not widely received despite its high topical relevance. However, the respondents’ reactions provide us with some clues. The participants of the workshop in the Archdiocese of Addis were principally very positive yet they made a couple of suggestions; however, the change in the final version was minor. There was also no formal occasion in which the launching of the letter took place. It was spread through parishes just like the usual Church announcements. It could be possible that the letter was received as one among the ordinary messages. The reception of any text is constrained by the available members’ resources, which are effectively internalized social structures, norms, and conventions, including orders of discourse, and conventions for the production, distribution and consumption of them. They are also constrained by the specific nature


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of the social practice of which they are parts.36 Those with pastoral responsibility and other laity movements are accustomed to receiving orders from their respective bishops. This has probably determined the way the letter is understood in which its pastoral significance has become diminished. It was read most likely as a pastoral document with interesting ideas. The suggestions made by a number of the interviewees lead us also in this direction when they said that a commission should have been set up to make people aware of its significance and give it form in accordance with the concrete applicability of it in the corresponding dioceses. As is mentioned above the fact that the Amharic translation was poor seems to have resulted in a less legible text. The majority of Catholics can read only in Amharic. Even those with certain English proficiency would prefer to use Amharic to read it. If the Amharic text is less readable because of a number of linguistic errors and conceptual ambiguities, these certainly contribute to a lesser consumption of the text. 5.1.3. Social Practice In describing the Ethiopian society the bishops identified it as a society recognized by accelerated pace of urbanization and modernization with increasing influence from outside and a new generation with less affinity to cultural and traditional values. Although urbanization is an ongoing process in any society, the Ethiopian case seems to be exaggerated. Can one speak of accelerated urbanization and modernization while according to the statistics of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) the urban population of Ethiopia was 12.7% in 1990 and 16.2% in 2003?37 Such a popular discourse implicitly expresses a kind of longing for the closed society it was assumed to be. Extending their concern the bishops note that there is a trend of generation gap, ever declining parental authority and weakening of the family and clan institutions characterizing the contemporary society. The bishops’ concern goes further when they state, ‘This crisis of authority is also affecting the Catholic Church.’ (§ 30) The statement assumes that certain values are eroded due to globalization. The question here is whether the statement is a representation of the reality or a nostalgic appreciation of the past. It is common for every genera-

Fairclough, Discourse and Social Change. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Population, Health and Socio-Economic Indicators/Policy Development: Overview Ethiopia,, consulted January 12, 2007.


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tion to speak of the past as ‘the old good days’. Is the change only for the worst? Or do the bishops want to maintain the traditional status quo? In the third section of this article I indicated how failure of leadership in the field of politics alienated the society from its culture. One can say the leadership crisis spread throughout the country apparently created condescension and disdain for leaders and authority.38 In § 40 and 41 the bishops expressed their concern — though mildly — for the formation of priests. Could it then be possible that the reason that the Church is affected by the ‘crisis of authority’ due to leadership crisis of priests? The relation the bishops tried to make between being a minority Church and the feeling of powerlessness and inferiority complex among Catholics seems somehow an ambiguous discourse. Whether such a claim is an assumption or found out after an inquiry among the faithful needs to be seen. Another question can be raised if at all Catholics would wonder what their social and political role could be as a minority Church in the Ethiopian society, particularly in the context where the socio-political role of any church for that matter is in its rudimentary stages. Related to this is also the question whether Catholics consciously would link their being Catholic and their social involvement. Besides, the bishops describe that Catholic professional elite of the past have passed without leaving successors. In fact Catholics are part of the society at large in which they make use of the education system and the infrastructure of the country. In line with the previous question the issue here is if the faithful professionals should think of passing on their knowledge in a special way to new generations within the framework of the Church. Furthermore, would not the approach of transmitting professional knowledge within the framework of a particular Church risk developing an attitude of exclusiveness and parochialism? Is that not also in conflict with the aspiration of the Church that intends to be open toward other confessions in particular and toward society in general? The letter posits progressive decline of the strength of clan institution (§ 30) while it puts ethnic tension as one of the problems which the Church too is de facto part of (§ 38). Although two apostolic vicariates and an eparchy have been established after the country was divided on the assumed ethnic lines, the diocesan territories have had their own history. Most of the diocesan territories, with the exception of the Archdiocese of Addis Ababa, have been determined based on pastoral reasons, their relative practicality, the number of


Bahru, A History of Modern Ethiopia; Messay, Survival and Modernization.


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Catholics and available bishops. In certain areas linguistic factors were of course taken into account.39 Only the diocese of Soddo Hosanna is confined to one regional administration. The territories of all the other dioceses extend across the regional administrations in which two or three dioceses share a piece of the territory of one regional administration. Comparing the regional territories with the diocesan territories and thereby associating the Church as part of the ethnic tension is a little too far-fetched. It is, of course, undeniable that there are ethnic tensions also in the Church, but that could possibly be more a reflection of the contemporary political situation than a consequence of the diocesan territorial division. Furthermore, the statement brings also contradicting discourses. On the one hand, it in a way asserts that ethnicity and regionalism are growing. On the other hand, it claims that the strength of clan institutions has declined which means that people identify themselves less with their clan and ethnicity. According to the letter, having two rites is experienced by some as a source of tension. The fact that this point is not further analyzed and no suggestions are made to solve the problem makes the letter more equivocal. The statement raises in the reader questions like, ‘By whom is it thought to be a source of tension?’, ‘Why?’, ‘What could be done to solve it?’, etc. Concerning peace and reconciliation the letter refers to the war that ended not long ago between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The bishops claim also to have an exemplary unique body of Episcopal Conference of both countries as a sign of hope. Nevertheless, it does not present the reader as to what the contribution of this body would be for the development of peace and as to what extent the bishops of these two countries have common agendas if peace might prevail. At the same time the letter does not deny the problems in its practicality. Furthermore, in migrant Catholic communities the conflict between the two groups has existed for decades even prior to the secession of Eritrea.40

39 Source Fr. Tsegaye Keneni, Secretary General of the ECS and secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Ethiopia. 40 Even though permanent pastoral service for migrant Ethiopians/Eritreans started in the 1970s in Rome and Washington DC, no research has been done so far as to its significance, problems and the likes. Half way through the 1980s conflicts between Tigrigna speakers (mostly Eritreans) and other Ethiopians were reported to the Archdiocese of Addis Ababa. Mostly community members demanded that the readings and the homily be conducted in Tigrigna or at least bilingually. This led to disagreements due to which most of the times, either all the Ethiopians or many of them left the community. Such incidents were reported from Rome, Toronto, Amsterdam and Washington DC. (Source: Fr. Tsegaye Keneni, Fr. Petros Berga, Mr. Petros Dejene, Mr. Merid Hailu).

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By stating that they maintain a unique body of Bishops Conference as a sign of hope and communion, the bishops ascribe themselves a special identity. However, there have been occasions in which at least Ethiopian Catholics have expressed their discomfort with the Church situation after Eritrea has seceded from Ethiopia de facto in 1991 and through referendum in 1994 particularly after the relationship between the two countries became very hostile in 1998. How much this discourse can affect the stance of the faithful in both countries needs to be inquired into. Besides, the discourse of peace and reconciliation of the bishops does not address internal conflicts and human rights abuses with the exception of passing references to the existence of ethnic tension. In the brief reference they make to the issue, they indirectly disapprove the way regional territories are created and call for national unity. At this time when the current ethnic policy is not improving the living conditions of those ethnic groups to whom it promised equality and progress but rather ethnic tensions have intensified, calling for national unity could be something constructive. However, such a discourse needs to go further in addressing how the recognition of peoples’ ethnic affiliation could be organically integrated with nation building and national unity. Otherwise, in the current volatile political situation, a discourse exclusively of national unity is a risky endeavour as it might be interpreted as a nationalistic discourse longing for the past that was highly centralized. The bishops’ discourse of peace and reconciliation is also somehow timid. The overall political situation of the country might have influenced this text as it has been hitherto only the absence of war that is politically achieved. It is possible that this part is determined by the thought that the Church operates with utmost caution not to offend authorities (§ 34) as the Algiers Agreement between the two countries is precarious and politically sensitive. On top of not addressing internal conflicts and tensions, it also does not present traditional tools to promote peace and reconciliation, while traditional conflict resolution is widely practiced even in cities.41
41 By traditional conflict resolution I mean the shimgelina system. Shimgelina means mediation or arbitration. In the rural area shimageles (which means ‘council of elders’) are respected elders of a particular mono or multiethnic community. Mostly they are elected by tacit agreements without voting. They serve the community as long as they can. In urban communities shimageles are not permanent figures. They are rather brought together in time of conflict. Whoever that has the trust of the conflicting parties and is capable of dealing with the issue at hand can be part of the shimageles. The system is ubiquitous in the country. Shimageles deal with conflict resolution and mediation in areas ranging from marital conflicts to territorial disputes between tribes. Even the modern judiciary system of the country recognizes the role of shimgelina in certain


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In the sections dealing with women by making certain distinctions between consecrated and other women particularly with regard to sharing pastoral responsibilities, the bishops adhere to a classical theological discourse. At the same time they use feminist liberation discourse in addressing the cultural and social problem of women (§ 43). Describing the society as patriarchal, the letter enumerates cultural and social trends that are oppressive and discriminatory toward women. While imposed marriage and marginalization of widows can be mainly attributed to the patriarchal nature of the society; one can wonder as to whether the practices of genital mutilation and trafficking in young girls can be ascribed to it. So far was this issue nearly a taboo in the Church, but the bishops have taken a courageous step to open up debate in the community. In the paragraph on the impact of globalization, it is implied that the new generation does not hold cultural and traditional values, but it does not specify which cultural and traditional values it refers to. Yet the paragraph dealing exclusively with the youth is very short. Even though it states the poor academic and career possibilities for the youth, it does not name their role in the Church. While one of the serious challenges of the Church is the pastoral and social need of the youth, it is paradoxical that youth related issues are addressed so little. Very briefly have the bishops addressed the alarming problem of HIV/Aids. The issue is addressed neither extensively nor analytically. The text poses only questions on how to deal with the problem particularly how to bring about awareness in the ethical value of sex. The irony is that such a ‘serious concern’ is dealt in so a cursory way. While the problem of HIV/Aids touches all part of the Ethiopian society, and more harshly the productive generation, the text does not explore whether there could be any traditional system like iddir 42

areas even if sometimes the implementation might have certain problems in its practicality. (For more details on shimgelina see Dejene Aredo (comp.),Conflict in the Horn: Prevention and Resolution. Addis Ababa: OSSREA 2001; P. Bevan and A. Pankhurst (eds.), Ethiopian Village Studies Addis Ababa: Department of Sociology, Addis Ababa University, 1996, evstudies/pdfs/yetmen/yetmen-nophotos.pdf, downloaded May 4, 2007 ; Action Professionals’ Association for the People, Searching Inwards, Addis Ababa, unpublished research report, 2001. 42 Iddir is an indigenous voluntary solidarity association. It provides financial, material and emotional support during bereavement and loss due to accident. In accordance with the capacity of the iddirs some work on sanitation development in the neighbourhood, sharing responsibilities in building smaller infrastructures like feeder roads and sewerage systems, and secondarily good social (neighbourly) relations, social control, and the likes. Even if the most prevalent ones are neighbourhood based iddirs, there are friends’ iddirs, employees’ iddirs (of one employer), women’s iddirs, men’s iddirs, youth’s iddirs, ethnic-based iddirs, etc. Iddirs are not exclusively voluntary associations with a number of functions; they are symbols of identity and human relationship. (See also Dejene Aredo, ‘Iddir: A Look as a form of Social Capital’, in: A. Pankhurst

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(indigenous voluntary solidarity association) through which awareness programs and a number activities could be conducted. The iddir could have been named as a possible dialogue partner of the Church to address a number of social problems as the system is spread throughout the country with the exception of a few remote areas. On top of its functional objectives the iddir has symbolic significance for the members. It is also a source of communal and individual identity.43 These characteristic traits of iddirs could have been a point of theological reflection for social action. The third part is an extension to the second part in which the bishops express their aspirations what the Church ought to be. Because most of the issues are addressed earlier, it will suffice to note a couple of points that need further discussion. The bishops express their commitment to dialogue with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Muslim community (§ 48). However, there is no mention of any Protestant Churches even the fast growing ones, among others, the Mekane Yesus (Evangelical Lutheran Church), the Messerete Keristos (Menonite Church) and the Mulu Wongel (indigenous Church). While a significant number of the Church members, mainly the youths, is lost to these churches, the text provides no clue as to the readiness of the Church to engage in dialogue with Protestant churches. The bishops have not also mentioned the existing co-operation particularly with the Mekane Yesus Church mainly in regard peace and reconciliation, emergency aid and development programs. Keeping silent seems withholding information and not giving attention to the desires of certain section of the Church community or evading the problem. There is also an ambivalent way of reasoning in the discourses concerning diversity. On the one hand there is an undertone of disapproval of ethnocentrism (§ 38). On the other hand, the bishops expect that the two liturgical rites that separate the various dioceses be appreciated as enrichment. By relating the diocesan territory with the current regional territory which is based on assumed ethnicity, the text suggests a certain reading of the reality. Whereas within the clergy and religious congregations and orders there is a tension between advocates of the Latin and the Ge’ez rites, this tension is almost absent among the faithful. Ethiopian migrants all over the world are being served mainly in Ge’ez rite. Migrant Catholics from dioceses with the Latin rite participate as actively as the others.44
(ed.) Iddirs: Participation and Development, Addis Ababa: CPP 2001; Alemayehu Seifu, ‘Iddir in Addis Ababa: A Sociological Study’, Ethiopia Observer, 12/1 (1968); A. Pankhurst, ‘The Role and Space of Iddirs to Participate in the Development of Ethiopia’, in: Pankhurst, Iddirs. 43 Alemayehu. 44 Source: Mr. Merid Hailu (Rome), Mr. Petros Dejene (Toronto), Fr. Petros S. Berga (Amsterdam/London)


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Finally, it is worth mentioning that in § 54 there is a call for preferential love for children and the defence of their rights and dignity. While the call of the bishops is highly timely and urgent, the issue should have been addressed extensively particularly in the preceding parts as the number of orphans is increasing ever more due to malaria, HIV/Aids and tuberculosis45 on top of the visible problems of child labour, child homelessness, and school dropout.46 Although the text could be identified as fairly inter-discursive, it has not extensively made use of specific historical and traditional systems and symbols. The little reference it has made to tradition is also ambivalent. On the one hand, it asserts that the old good tradition of respect for family and attachment to one’s culture have disappeared due to globalization. On the other hand, it relates tradition with the recent development of ethnocentrism/ regionalism. Even if the bishops start their analysis of the societal situation by depicting the detachment of the new generation from his cultures and traditions, they have not addressed the issue exhaustively. Neither have they made use of traditional expressions or symbols to explicate their ideas. Of course, the insertion of the Marian prayer at the end of the prayer could contribute to the maintenance of the existing popular devotion. 5.2. Letters Related to the Third Elections The Amharic translation of Message of the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia on the Occasion of the Third Elections is relatively better than the pastoral letter dealt above and also readable. However, the term ‘common good’ is translated inconsistently. In paragraph 3 it is translated as common issue (yegara guday) while the other three occurrences are translated as people’s common benefit (yehizb yegara teqim). The text is mainly hortatory in which it encourages the addressees to participate in the election. Repeatedly the bishops remind the reader to bear in mind how and what to do. It has also expository characteristics in the sense that it explains what it is to be a politician/leader interspersing brief narratives (§ 6, 7) to make it clear for the reader. Recursion is also used to emphasize the principle of the common good (§ 3, 6, 12). Three out of the four times repetition of the phrase ‘common good’ is brought in relation to the country as a whole.
45 World Health Organization (WHO), ‘Country Profile Ethiopia’, countries/eth/eth/en/, downloaded May 4, 2007. 46 P. Rose an2d Samer Al-Samarrai, ‘Household Contraints on Schooling by Gender: Empirical Evidence from Ethiopia’, Comparative Education Review, 45/1 (2001), 36-63, http://links.jstor. org/sici?sici=0010-4086(200102)45%3A1%3C36%3AHCOSBG%3E2.0.CO%3B2-O, downloaded July 10, 2007.

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The first two paragraphs are introductory. Then the text invites people to participate. In paragraph 5 it abruptly inserts certain specific criteria. The following two paragraphs deal with ideas like the quality of would-be elects, respect for pluralism and involvement of the laity. Then paragraph 8 sketches the responsibility of the citizen and again enumerates certain criteria. In the following paragraph it denounces election fraud. Then it encourages all to do their best to make it succeed. The letter does not have a thematic title. Instead it is ‘message’ related to ‘the third elections’. The phrase ‘third elections’ is linked to the dominant political order of discourse. By claiming that it is the third election, the ruling party makes all preceding elections prior its assumption of power invalid. Thus, by mixing discourses in a certain way, the letter helps maintain the ideology of the ruling party with this regard. The text seems to ascribe political responsibility and involvement exclusively to the laity yet without stating the role of the clergy in this regard (§ 7). Mainly drawing on the CST, the bishops address the issue of civic participation. Drawing on the ‘African Synod’, the message endorses plurality by explicitly saying that ‘democracy (. . .) respects pluralism’ (§ 7). However, it does not specify whether it is endorsing political plurality or ethnic plurality. Amidst the hot political debate that had been unknown in the country, the bishops call all citizens to cast their votes. It is for the first time that the Church has made such a call and also for the first time that such a message is aired and published on the government owned media and the private press. This has brought about a slight attitude change toward this Church by the general public. The public was highly positive about the letter.47 Within the Catholic Church, the letter was read in many parishes on Sundays instead of the homily. As the text was published in the only monthly paper of the Church, Fikirena Selam, the need to have a copy of the paper was unusually so high that all copies were sold out in a short while. There had been formal and informal group discussions about the letter. The dynamic for a Church with a clear social vision has been experienced as the letter of the bishops has not only encouraged civic participation but also brought about more participation within the Church. In their first post election message the bishops call all citizens to be tolerant and promote peace. The bishops use a kind of fatherly genre to communicate

Source: Mr. Berhanu Tamene who is responsible for the Justice and Peace desk of the Ethiopian Catholic Secretariat.



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their message by saying, ‘we, the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia, (. . .) greet you (. . .) as the Bishops of the Ethiopian Catholic Church appeal to you (. . .)’ and at the closure, ‘It is our prayerful wish (. . .)’ The letter begins with a narrative stating what and where the bishops were doing. Then it describes how the election took place and what subsequently happened. By stating that they were in their own usual annual assembly and yet took time to discuss this national issue, the bishops indicate the seriousness of the problem. Further in the text they express their appreciation and the compliment of the international community for the magnificent participation during the elections. The positive aspect of the elections is emphasized possibly to stimulate people to take a more constructive and positive stance. As the political tension escalated after the elections, the government owned media seemed not to be interested in publishing/airing the message as they were closed for any other voice than that of the ruling party. Many of the private press too were on the run as they were hunt down by security forces for reporting on police violence. So, the message of the bishops was published only in Fikirna Selam and on the website of the Church. The message was read in parishes after the Holy Mass on the first Sunday after the message was published. So, it reached the wider public only through the internet and through person to person communication. As access to the internet is very limited in the country, its reading was relatively higher in the cities. The second post election message is a little bit more extensive than the former one and is well thought out. The bishops identify themselves as part of the conscience of the society. It is a well organized and structured text. It is a combination of descriptive, expository and hortatory text. It describes the situation and explains how a democratic political system works. It also encourages all parties to take constructive actions. The text analyzes the cause of the violence. It employs a socio-political discourse in explaining the post election social and political situation. It employs a technical analogy from the medical world to describe the situation. Even though the analogy might be widely understood, a question can be raised as to why a related Ethiopian analogy or metaphor is not used. In general the text can be described as fairly inter-textual. It draws on the CST, Biblical discourse, political science discourse and sociological discourse. Even though the government media still would not give any coverage of the call of the bishops, there was some interest among the surviving private press. The weekly paper The Ethiopian Reporter did cover the story on 26 December 2005 and the Ethiopian Human Rights Council and one of the opposition coali-

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tion groups endorsed the letter. This has made it somehow more accessible to the wider public due to which there were a couple of positive reactions on the internet. However, in all cases there were no analytical reactions to all the letters.

6. Conclusion By going through the recent major texts of the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia, this article has tried to find out to what extent the Catholic bishops have made use of Ethiopian traditional symbols and values. The bishops have addressed a number of highly relevant and timely issues. People long for a church that is significantly present in the society. With these letters, the bishops have made it visible that the Church has also a significant horizontal dimension. The vertical dimension is used as a foundation. We have seen above that theology needs to be communicated incarnationally in a concrete way based on and as a reflection of human experience in context. However, the letters draw mainly on the CST, liberation theological discourse and classical theological discourse. As churches are close to the people, their aspirations, needs, joys, values, pains and sufferings need to be sources for theological reflection and starting points to proclaim the Kingdom of God. The daily life of the people should be an ingredient of the evangelization process. Using only Scriptural and/or Roman thoughts without inculturating it would be like sowing the seed without ploughing the ground. One aspect of culture to be taken into consideration is language. If the medium was Amharic it would have had the advantage of translating concepts and principles of the CST by phrasing them in an understandable way. Local issues could also easily be conceptualized and analyzed using the local language. Furthermore, by using Amharic in their discourse, they would also contribute toward the growth of the language. Most of the issues raised in the four documents pertain to pastoral, social, political and also ethnic issues. Among the intimate traditional systems the shimgelina could be used to promote reconciliation and peace. It could be presented integrally with the Gospel message of reconciliation and along with socio-political discourse and liberation theological discourse. The shimgelina has a far-reaching impact in the Ethiopian as well as Eritrean society. Also with regard to the post election riots, it could have supplemented the proposal in a distinctive and singular way. As bishops and priests are commonly considered as part of the shimageles (elders), such a proposal would have had a wider societal


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effect which in turn could influence the political discourse. It could have made the message more understandable and concrete. It could also have challenged people and concerned parties to think about reconsidering the value of their own cultural heritage. Even if political parties are not keen on such systems, the church(es) could exert influence on the society by pressing on locally highly valued systems. The same is also true to iddir. As iddirs are ubiquitous in the country and a household may at times belong to several iddirs, they could be the right forums for awareness programs to address problems related to HIV/Aids, the youth and children. They are very close to the people and have significant social and cultural influence. As their main objective is solidarity with each other, this could be an intersecting area where the principle of solidarity of the CST could be tried to be interrelated. Given the core intension of the bishops is to cause an impact in the structures and values of the society, it would be much more meaningful and significant to make use of traditional symbols and values. By employing certain traditional systems, symbols and values, a text can make people easily identify themselves with it. Due consideration of the value of traditional systems is essential in any kind of pastoral, social, cultural and political undertakings. As an institution and a community with which people identify themselves, the Church could be a place par excellence where a new discourse can be developed in which traditional systems and values could be employed in view of (communicating) the CST in Ethiopia. People’s ideas and feelings could be touched effectively using symbols and values that are intimate to them. Based on the finding of this research we cannot arrive at an unequivocal conclusion that the supposed irrelevance of particularly The Church We Want to Be for the faithful is related to its lack of cultural affinity. Nevertheless, we have argued that it is one of its major handicaps. Perhaps the poor reception of the text has to do with certain pastoral weaknesses as indicated by the results of the interview. The interviewees responded that the impact of the letter might have been more visible if it were further worked out in accordance with the need and the concrete context of each diocese, deanery and parish. But this does not indicate anything as to whether the pastoral weakness could be related to the Church’s weak appropriation of traditional discourse in her pastoral organization. So, it would not be unwise to propose that along with the academic and spiritual formation of priests, they be equipped with sufficient training to be engaged in reading cultural values in exerting their pastoral tasks. In view of communicating the CST in Ethiopia it is not only imperative to investigate further if its impact would have been greater if it had included

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traits of the local cultures. It also needs a thorough inquiry to identify which traditional systems and values could be best employed.
Solomon Dejene (b. 1966) received a BA degree In English and Literature from Addis Ababa University in 1988. After several years of work experience in various fields, he went to the Netherlands to study Theology at the Catholic Theological University of Utrecht. Specializing in Theology and Society, he graduated in 2005. At this moment he is doing his PhD research at the Nijmegen Institute for Mission Studies.

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