THE ORIGIN OF CHRISTIANITY IN ETHIOPIA
Tradition tells us that Christianity came to Ethiopia very soon after Christ's resurrection. The Ethiopian eunuch of Acts 8:26-40 is considered as the first Christian missionary in Ethiopia. Also St. Mathew is called the Apostle of Ethiopia and Persia and in the past they used to show his grave near the ancient port of Adulis. Certainly the political, cultural and commercial links that the empire of Axum had with the Christian world of the Mediterranean area helped the coming of the Christian faith into Ethiopia very early in the Christian era. However Christianity became the state religion of Ethiopia when Emperor Ezana officially embraced the Christian faith in the early decades of the fourth century.
The Emperor was converted to Christianity by the work of two brothers from Tyre, Frumentius and Adesius, who after suffering shipwreck in Adulis were brought to the imperial court of Axum. Later on Frumentius was sent to Alexandria of Egypt where he was consecrated bishop by St. Athanasius around 332 A.D. Frumentius, known also as AbuneSalama and KesseteBerhan, became the first Bishop of Axum and with the help of Ezana was able to organize the Church and to spread the Christian faith in the vast Empire.
A turning point in the history of the EthiopianChurch is the arrival of the famous nine monks of Syrian origin around 479. These monks introduced a Christian tradition that marked the Ethiopian Church.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC) maintained its ties with the mother Church of Alexandria, in Egypt. These were mostly of a juridical nature. It is well known that up to 1929 the bishops were Egyptians consecrated and sent to Ethiopia by the mother Church of Alexandria; only in 1951, for the first time in Ethiopian history, an Ethiopian ascended the Metropolitan See of Addis Ababa in the person of AbuneBasileos. Later, in 1959, he was invested with the dignity of Patriarch of the TewahedoChurch, thus sanctioning the religious independence of the EthiopianChurch from the Patriarchal See of Alexandria.
The EOTC remained well rooted in the northern and central part of the country in spite of many problems caused by internal dissensions, by the expansion of Islam at times very aggressive, by foreign political and military pressure, by ethnic tensions among the various tribes, by divisions and wars among the different kings and princes and by other social problems. Facts that contributed for this cohesion were: the Christian identification of the reigning dynasty, the influence of the monks and, the devotion to the Virgin Mary, which is firmly rooted in the EOTC.
One remarkable success of Christian Ethiopians was their ability to fight the long battle (1531-43) against Muhammad Ahmad AbrahimGragn who was helped by the Turkish government. Portuguese troops came to help the Christians of Ethiopia and their King who officially asked for Christian solidarity from Rome and Lisbon.
In the following centuries the emperors played an important role in the life of the Church: in its organization and even in its beliefs and in its expansion. The military conquest of vast regions bordering on classical Ethiopia, especially the military campaigns of Menelik from 1875 onwards, determined the conversion to Christianity of many followers of traditional religions. At present, because of the constitutional division between Church and State, the EOTC is no longer recognized as State Church, although it claims the following of the majority of the population. Also relevant to Ethiopia is the presence of Islam widespread in cities, along commercial routes, and in the lowlands.
Protestants of various denominations carried out missionary work almost without interruption from the middle of the XIX century to the present day. This is the Christian group that has experienced the greatest growth, namely of faithful, coming from the ranks of the Orthodox and even Catholic Churches.
CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES IN ETHIOPIA
From the 12th century onwards the Church of Rome made several approaches towards the EthiopianChurch with very little success.
Following the arrival of the Portuguese in the 16th century, the Jesuits made great efforts to convert the people and initially with good results. Various causes contributed to their expulsion in 1634, during the reign of Fasilides. After Fasilides the Ethiopian kings, suspicious of foreign missionaries forbade their presence and activity in the country. The missionaries who managed to enter were either expelled or even executed on the spot. The Catholic Church has officially beatified five of these missionaries who died as martyrs in Gondar, two in 1638 and three in 1716.
The arrival of the Lazarist Justin de Jacobis, in 1839 marks a turning point in the history of Catholic Church in Ethiopia. In spite of persecution by the religious and political leaders of the time, he succeeded in making converts among the laity and the clergy. One outstanding convert was Blessed Abba Ghebremichael who became an authentic martyr of the Catholic faith. With his apostolic work, St. Justin laid the foundations of the present day Catholic Church in Northern Ethiopia and in Eritrea.
In the southern part of Ethiopia, missionary work began withthe erection of the Apostolic Vicariate entrusted to the Capuchin GuglielmoMassaia, thethen called Apostolic Vicariate of the Galla, in 1846. He worked for many years among the Oromosof Wollega, Kaffa and in Shewa. After his expulsion in 1879 by Emperor Yohannes IV, the French Capuchins who moved the center of the Vicariate to the city of Harar continued his work. The Consolata missionaries from 1910 to 1941 continued the work of Massaia among the Oromosof Wollega and in Kaffa.
In the wake of the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, 1935-1941 there was a flurry of missionary activity all over the country, but it was short lived. It ended with the Italian defeat in 1941.
New missionary initiatives, especially in southern Ethiopia, started around 1965, the year of the closing of Vatican II. Since then, a good number of missionaries came to the wide missionary field of southern Ethiopia. As a result of such sustained activity new ecclesiastical jurisdictions were established.
Presently the majority of the Catholic population of Ethiopia is found in the southern region.
CHRONOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE CATHOLIC
CHURCH IN ETHIOPIA
1839 The erection of the Apostolic Prefecture of Abyssinia, entrusted to the Lazarist Fathers.
1846 May 4 The erection of the Apostolic Vicariate entrusted to Massaia, Capuchin Fathers, The Apostolic Prefecture of Abyssinia becomes an Apostolic Vicariate.
1894 Division of the Apostolic Vicariate of Abyssinia and erection of the Apostolic Prefecture of Eritrea, entrusted to the Capuchin Fathers.
1913 Jan. 28 The erection of the Apostolic Prefecture of Kaffa, entrusted to the Consolata Fathers.
1930 July 4 The erection of the Ordinariate for Catholics of Ghe'ez Rite inEritrea. Mgr.KidanemariamKassa was appointed as its first Bishop.
1937 Mar. 25 * Erection of the Apostolic Delegation of Addis Ababa.
* Erection of the Apostolic Vicariate of Harar.
* Erection of the Apostolic Vicariate of Jimma.
* Erection of the Apostolic Prefectures of Tigray, Negheli and Gondar.
1940 Feb. 13 Erection of the Apostolic Prefectures of Hosanna and Emdibir.
1951 Oct. 31 Erection of the two Apostolic Exarcates of Addis Ababa and Asmara.
1957 May 9 Erection of the Internunciature of Addis Ababa.
1961 Feb. 20 The erection of the ecclesiastical Province of Ethiopia with its Archiepiscopal Metropolitan See in Addis Ababa, Asmara and Adigrat as Suffragan Eparchies.
1969 Mar. 8 TheInternunciature of Addis Ababa is raised to the status of Apostolic Nuntiature.
1969 Oct. 15 The former Prefecture of Negheli takes the name of Prefecture of Hawassa.
1979 Mar. 15 The Prefecture of Hawassa is raised to the status of Apostolic Vicariate.
1980 Mar. 6 Erection of the Apostolic Prefecture of Meki.
1982 Sept. 3 The former Apostolic Vicariate of Jimma takes the name of Apostolic Vicariate of Nekemte.
1982 Oct. 15 The Apostolic Prefecture of Soddo-Hosanna is raised to Apostolic Vicariate.
1992 Jan. 25 The Prefecture of Meki is raised to Apostolic Vicariate.
1994 June 10 The erection of the Apostolic Prefecture of Jimma-Bonga.
2000 Nov. 25 Erection of the Apostolic Prefecture of Gambela.
2003 Nov. 25 The Apostolic Prefecture of Emdibir is raised to Epharchy
2010 The Apostolic Prefecture of Jimma-Bonga is raised to Apostolic Vicariate of Jimma-Bonga.
2010 The Apostolic Vicariate of Soddo-Hosanna is divided into Apostolic Vicariate of Soddo and Apostolic Vicariate of Hosanna.
2010 The establishment of the Pastoral Territory of Bahr-Dar inside the Archdiocese of Addis Abeba.
At present the Ecclesiastical circumscriptions of Ethiopia are:
1. The Archdiocese of Addis Ababa.
2. The Eparchy of Adigrat.
3. The Eparchy of Emdibir
4. The Apostolic Vicariate of Harar.
5. The Apostolic Vicariate of Nekemte.
6. The Apostolic Vicariate of Hawassa.
7. The Apostolic Vicariate of Soddo.
8. The Apostolic Vicariate of Meki.
9. The Apostolic Vicariate of Jimma-Bonga.
10. The Apostolic Vicariate of Hosanna.
11. The Apostolic Vicariate of Gambela.
(The Pastoral Territory of Bahr-Dar in the Archdiocese of Addis Abeba.)
The first threeCircumscriptions are subject to the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches, while the remaining are subject to the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.