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A welcome for refugees and aid for Eritrea

· Cardinal Sandri appeals to international community on behalf of Catholic Church in this African country ·

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, visited Eritrea from 1 to 6 July. The following is a translation from the Italian of a shortened version of the account of his visit, translated from Italian.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri was invited to Eritrea by the Bishops of the country in honour of the 150th anniversary of the dies natalis , the birth in Heaven, of St Giustino De Jacobis, the missionary Bishop who was able to make himself “all things to all people”, after the example of St Paul.

On Sunday, 4 July, the Cardinal Prefect went to the Shrine of Our Lady of Zion at Hebo to venerate the Saint's relics and preside at the Divine Liturgy. In his homily the Cardinal mentioned the tormented history of the Church in Eritrea. Yet, he said, thanks to Christ the Good Shepherd, his Most Holy Mother and the great Saint, Giustino De Jacobis, it was possible to overcome every trial on account of the fertility that the tears and blood of Christians always bring.

He thanked the Lazarist Fathers [Vincentians, members of the Congregation of the Mission], confreres of St Giustino, for their missionary commitment to Eastern Catholics, especially the poorest, and their generous witness to their own special spirituality. Cardinal Sandri communicated the Holy Father Benedict XVI's Blessing which was welcomed everywhere with joy and devotion.

After the sacred rite, following St Giustino's example of charity, he visited the orphanage run by the Daughters of Charity. He then returned to the Shrine of the Saint to meet with the young people.

In the afternoon the Cardinal Prefect went to Sagheneti to meet the flourishing community there and visit the new Minor Seminary.

On 1 July, to highlight the grace of the Year for Priests that ended recently, he began his journey with a meeting at the Major Seminary in Asmara. Here he reaffirmed the importance of human, Christian and theological formation, reinforced by the work of the local Theological Institute. He proposed to the seminarians as a model the Holy Family of Nazareth with its exemplary life of work, prayer, silence and brotherhood.

Next he visited the Cathedral of Asmara dedicated to Our Lady of Pompeii, in a certain way the symbol of the city. The Cardinal strongly recommended to the priests, women religious and lay people thronging the cathedral Marian devotion – and especially the recitation of the Rosary – as a school of the Gospel and an anchor of salvation. He paid homage at the tomb of the Italian Bishop Carrara, a founding father of the Catholic Church in Eritrea, and prayed for all the missionaries who paid with their lives for being faithful to the proclamation of Christ.

Cardinal Sandri then met with the Apostolic Nuncio and the Bishops to discuss the situation of the Church in Eritrea.

Wishing to become acquainted with the three Eparchies, the Cardinal began by going on 1 July to Keren where he was welcomed by the Eparchial Bishop Kidane Yebio, by the Municipal Authorities and by Orthodox and Muslim representatives with whom he had a cordial conversation. He congratulated them on their reciprocal respect that he felt would lead to promising collaboration.

In St Michael's Cathedral he spoke to the clergy, men and women religious and many of the faithful to whom he conveyed the Holy Father's greeting and Blessing.

On 2 July, in the same cathedral, a Divine Liturgy was celebrated in the Ge’ez rite. In the afternoon the Cardinal Prefect went to Barentu. He stopped on the way to pray in a small chapel at Aderde and then in the Church of Our Lady of Fatima at Agordat, a district with a Muslim majority where the Capuchin Fathers carry out valuable pastoral work and offered prayers for mutual respect and cooperation. His visit to Mogolo Hospital, run by the Daughters of Charity, gave the Cardinal an opportunity to address words of comfort to the sick, and especially to the children suffering from malnutrition, for whom this centre is especially equipped.

In Barentu the people gathered with Eparchial Bishop Thomas Osman, ofm cap, at the Parish of Mary Most Holy of the Assumption since the cathedral is still being built. Representatives of the laity and youth warmly welcomed Cardinal Sandri and he urged them to follow the example of the Missionaries who came to Eritrea to witness to the Gospel with enthusiasm, even at the risk of losing their lives.

In the evening, speaking to catechists, he encouraged them to keep a lively awareness of their ecclesial service and asked them to deepen their knowledge of the word of God and the teaching of the Church, especially with reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

At the Divine Liturgy on Saturday, 3 July, Cardinal Sandri invoked Mary Most Holy so that, with St Giustino De Jacobis and the Patrons of Eritrea, she might continue to watch over the ecclesial mission in Barentu. He asked them to join in remembrance of their loved ones, including the late Bishop Luca Milesi, ofm cap, the first Bishop of Barentu, who died in 2008. The Cardinal thanked the Capuchin Order for their generous work in the Eastern Churches. Referring to last year's Synod for Africa, celebrated at the Vatican, he stressed that the Gospel is a force of integral development for all Africans and expressed the hope that there would be peace, justice and reconciliation for Eritrea and for the entire Continent of Africa.

The Divine Liturgy, on 5 July, was followed by a meeting with priests, men and women religious and lay people; the Cardinal Prefect asked them “to comfort in Christ's name all who are suffering”. On returning to Keren, he visited the so-called “Shrine of Our Lady of the Baobab”, established and cared for by the Cistercian Fathers of Casamari, which is a special pilgrimage destination. The image of Our Lady Mariam Dearit of the Miraculous Medal – a devotion disseminated in Eritrea by the Lazarist missionaries and the Daughters of Charity – stands in a more than 500-year-old baobab tree.

On Monday, 5 July, the Cardinal presided at a solemn Liturgy in Kidane-mehret, officiated in the Ge’ez rite by the Eparchial Bishop of Asmara with his Predecessor, numerous priests and religious. Here he emphasized the “universal and Catholic dimension of Christ's Church which integrates Eritrean Catholics into the one Body of the Church”, adding that this conviction must make us authentic Christians and builders of the internal unity of the Church, fostering in society reconciliation, justice and peace. He assured the community he would remember them to the Holy Father and express their wish to invite him.

Meetings followed: with the Director of the European Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to whom the Cardinal expressed the Holy Father's greeting to the Eritrean people; with the lay leaders, to whom he reaffirmed the importance of active participation in the Church's life; and with young people. He mentioned the drama of young people, forced to leave their country in search of a better future, who unfortunately often meet with death in the desert or at sea. He added his heartfelt prayers for the victims of these sorrowful tragedies.

He encouraged youth “to give themselves for just causes, to fight against disorderly attractions and sin that deceive” and to remain faithful to Christ, loving the Church and building her up with their commitment. Cardinal Sandri expressed “a strong hope that the international community will offer to receive the refugees and help Eritrea find ways to freedom and progress” so that it may look forward to a future of peace, work, justice and dignity for all Eritreans.

The Cardinal also had a fruitful meeting with the Major Superiors of Eritrea, men and women. He invited them to follow Christ in a way that is ever new, in obedience, poverty and chastity. In the evening a reception was given in his honour. Present with the four Eparchial Bishops were the Apostolic Nuncio, numerous priests, consecrated and lay people, the Grand Mufti of Eritrea and the Administrator of the Orthodox Church, as well as various Ministers of Eritrea and numerous Ambassadors.

Cardinal Sandri presented to the Bishops the Pope's gift, a medal of the Pontificate on which are engraved the words : Mihi vivere Christus est . This is the programme for Pastors and faithful alike and sums up the visit to Eritrea: support for Catholics in their fidelity to Christ and to the Church, courage to proclaim him to everyone as “true and eternal life”.

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