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A Letter From Ethiopia

by Teshome Fikre Woldetensae with photographs by Petterik Wiggers

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My name is Abba [Father] Teshome Fikre Woldetensae, a priest from the Eparchy of Emdibir in central Ethiopia. Currently I am serving the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia as the deputy general secretary and as director of the conference’s national pastoral commission.

Being a priest in Ethiopia has tremendous responsibilities. The church strives to transform and save souls, and works for integral human development for the common good of all. Right now, the formation of young people and of our society is our primary challenge. Attitudes are changing very quickly; secular postures and outlooks are growing in our traditionally religious nation. We are experiencing a particular crisis in families and in the life of young people. Lack of job opportunities, extreme poverty and migration are serious challenges facing young people and families.

Personally, my greatest challenge is helping to form young people to believe in themselves, to believe in their families, in the society and in the nation so they may see a future in their own country.

I was fortunate in that I received solid formation in my faith and in my values. My father was nurtured in the Catholic Church and was a teacher. My mother was from an Orthodox family, and was received into full communion with the Catholic Church when she married my father. My childhood was very much attached to our parish. Priests were always welcomed and my mother was happy to cook for them whenever they passed by the village to visit other families and the sick.

Abba François Markos (1910-1989), a very saintly priest who established most of the existing parishes in the present Eparchy of Emdibir, was a great influence on my childhood. He was a father to all, an inspiration to everyone. I always desired to be like him — to nurture children in the faith; to spread the word of God; to serve the poor, sick and elderly; and to establish schools and health care institutions for serving needy people. His ministry served all humanity, irrespective of religious, social or economic background. In this way, Abba Markos planted the seed of vocation in my childhood heart. I always strived to reach to that goal.

I attended the minor seminary in the Archeparchy of Addis Ababa, entering when I was 14, and studied under the Canadian Jesuits. I continued my studies in philosophy and theology and was ordained in 1998. In those years of priestly formation, the CNEWA family accompanied me and helped see to my material needs. The support I received from was another source of inspiration.

Since my ordination, I continue to learn — from my pastoral work as a parish priest and pursuing advanced studies in Rome to learning from example from my elders and working with youth groups. Each of these experiences have shaped my ministry and taught me the wide variety of needs of the church, enriching what began as a simple desire to follow the example of Abba Markos.

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