Missionaries visit London
Missionaries from one of the most remote and inaccessible places on earth have been visiting London this week, accompanied by Bishop Dominic Kimengich of the Diocese of Lodwar, in northwest Kenya. There are few roads in Nyangatom, southwest Ethiopia where Fr David Eschrich, Fr Angel Valderia from the St Paul’s Missionary Community are setting up a new mission.
This rugged, semi-desert region on the border of Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia, has been the scene of violent ethnic tensions for years as rival tribes who live from their herds of cattle, compete for limited water supplies and grazing land. Add the effects of climate change and the construction of a dam on the only river in this region and you have the potential for greater problems in the future.
In order to help promote peace, the St Paul’s community for years have been building wells, rock dams, health, education, fishing and agricultural projects to help the pastoralist communities in Turkana settle, develop and adapt.
Since 2012, Catholic dioceses in Ethiopia and Kenya have been collaborating on the Cross Border Evangelisation Initiative to bring peace to this troubled border region. One project is a residential school at Todonyang for children from both the Dassanachs in Ethiopia and the Turkana communities.
The project was making great progress until this summer, when there was a terrible setback. On 31 July, a special celebration was being held to mark the 10th anniversary of Our Lady of Peace Todonyang Catholic Mission. The parish in Todonyang had invited their neighbours across the border to join them for this special day. Members of the Dassanach Catholic Church from Koro and Omorate villages in South Omo, Ethiopia, with an Orthodox priest and a Catholic priest had crossed the border to Kenya to join the celebrations. There were going to be 50 confirmations and a blessing of four new classrooms presided, over by Bishop Dominic Kimengich.
But just after the Mass ended, a Turkana warrior stormed into the church and shot dead one of the Ethiopian elders. “It was shocking” Bishop Dominic said. “Immediately afterwards, the parents took their children and left. They were terrified.”
On the same day, at the mission in Ethiopia, Fr David and Fr Angel were holding a joint service to pray for peace. “There were Catholics from Turkana and Christians from Nyangatong,” Fr Angel said. “Suddenly three warriors came and took all the Turkana women hostage because they said some cattle had been stolen. The kidnapping took place during the prayers of the faithful. I had been preaching about peace. The Devil can’t stand this and tried to stop it. The crisis went on for three days.”
Fr Angel continued: “We persuaded the three men to go to Kenya where they were held by the police. Eventually they were exchanged for the women. It was a very tense situation.” In fact the women were kept safe because one old man had kept them in his house and Fr David had insisted on staying with them. After a month the cattle were returned.
“There is a lot of tension still in Todonyang” Bishop Dominic said. “The Ethiopian government said they want the Kenyan authorities to arrest the killer of the elder. People know who he is, but the authorities do nothing. For the police and the government – this is such a remote place – they are not interested. Three weeks later the Dassenach came and killed an old woman in revenge.”
Since this crisis – all activities at the mission in Todonyang have been on hold. The workers are there, but the school is closed and the dispensary is quiet.
In spite of this setback – or partly because of it – Fr David and Fr Angel are working hard building the new mission. over the border in Ethiopia. Conditions are tough. They are living in tents. In fact one night when Bishop Dominic came to visit, a lion prowled through the camp. The temperature is about 40C. Together with some volunteer helpers Fr David and Fr Angel are running a number of projects, digging bore holes for water and offering first aid and basic medical help. If someone is more seriously ill they will drive them on the eight hour journey to the nearest hospital. David and Angel are learning the local language and getting to know the community. Once there is a good supply of water in the village there will be no need to go to river, which has always been a source of conflict.
Bishop Dominic said: “We have to be patient and keep on working for peace. Our hope for the future is in the children. Thats why evangelisation is so important – for people to understand that we are all one family.”
Bishop Dominic said he recently met Pope Francis, who spoke about the need to “work on peripheries”.
“Find new ways to spread the word of God to every corner of the world,” Pope Francis has said. ” Be witnesses of a different way of doing things, acting, living! Show that it’s possible to live differently in this world.”
Certainly that is what Fr David, Fr Angel and their colleagues are dedicating their lives to.
The St Paul’s Missionary Community is supported by the UK-based New Ways – which is run entirely by volunteers. The parish of Our Lady of Peace in Todonyang is twinned with Holy Apostles, Pimlico in London.
The mission urgently needs doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers – equipment and support of all kinds.
See more pictures on ICN’s Facebook page.
See http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/31403 for more information
Date: JNovember 23rd, 2016