By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 18, 2010
Desmond Drummer, a seminarian for the Atlanta Archdiocese, recently returned from a trip to Ethiopia. He answered a few questions about the trip.
What prompted your trip to Ethiopia?
The Pre-Theology Program at Mundelein Seminary has a partnership with Catholic Relief Services — the international relief and development arm of the Catholic Church in the U.S. Seminarians are given the opportunity to become CRS Global Fellows and have an immersion experience in the countries served by the group. The participants commit to become advocates for CRS. I was one of 11 CRS fellows to travel to Ethiopia—three priests and eight seminarians.
What did you learn that surprised you about that country and its people? When I think of Ethiopia, I have images in my mind of starving children, women and men. Is that still the case? What challenges do Catholics and other Ethiopians face?
Your initial reaction when you hear the name “Ethiopia” is understandable, and I suspect that your reaction is not unlike most Catholics, and others, in the United States. Alternatively, I would like for us to think of Ethiopia as a place referenced in the Old and New Testaments and as the home of an historic Christian community. Ethiopian civilization was Christianized in the beginning of the fourth century—long before Christianity became the dominant force in Europe. In fact, the Axumite Empire, centered in present-day Ethiopia, was the first major empire to adopt Christianity as the state religion.
That having been said, challenges exist. The country is home to about 80 million. Eighty percent of the workforce is engaged in agriculture, and the adult literacy rate is below 50 percent (only 23 percent among women). A portion of the population has well-paying jobs, but the majority of people live in rural areas suffering with prolonged droughts. As depicted in historic Ethiopian art, the land was once green and highly fertile. Today, however, the situation is tragic—the land and the people are thirsty. For example, only 30 percent of the population has access to clean water.
The Catholic Church in Ethiopia, however, has stepped up to the challenge by providing not only relief but also grassroots developmental programs that benefit people of all faiths. CRS supports programs in agriculture, water and sanitation, microfinance, HIV and AIDS. Only about 1 percent of Ethiopians are Catholic, and yet the Catholic presence in Ethiopia is well known for its work.
Like us, the church in Ethiopia struggles to meet the pastoral needs of its flock. Protestant groups from the U.S. who have established themselves in Ethiopia continue to attract young people away from the Catholic Church. Because the Catholic population is so small in comparison to other faith groups, we are told that there is always the risk of a general sense of inferiority on the part of Ethiopian Catholics.
What is a favorite memory of the trip?
When our delegation met with the bishop of the Ethiopian Catholic Eparchy of Adigrat, Bishop Tesfaselassie Medhin, I introduced myself and mentioned that my own archbishop was at the Synod for Africa in October 2009. The bishop interjected, “Ah yes! Archbishop Gregory! I have attended two synods with him!” Bishop Tesfaselassie later presented a few traditional Ethiopian hand crosses to our group. The bishop desired to give one to his friend, Archbishop Gregory, and asked that I, as his seminarian, accept the cross on his behalf. This seminarian could not have been more proud and humbled to experience the incredible breadth of the Catholic Church and the depth of the relationships in it. As instructed, I will pass this wonderful token of affection to Archbishop Gregory as soon as I return to Atlanta.
In the end, it really is about relationships—and through CRS, the Catholic Church in the U.S. builds credible, fruitful, and lasting relationships with so many people around the world.