Formation, paired with the free movement of people, “throughout Africa as in the European Union”, is key in keeping young people “on the continent”, so that they do not “pass into Sudan and then to Libya to go to die in the Mediterranean Sea”, or migrate to the Arab countries of the Gulf “to end up abused or mistreated”. Cardinal Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel, Archbishop of Addis Ababa, is convinced of this. That’s why he looks hopefully to a Global Solidarity Fund (gsf) pilot project aimed at benefiting “returning” migrants, refugees and internally displaced persons, and which involves five religious congregations and the archdiocese of the Ethiopian capital.
The largest country in the Horn of Africa, with its more than 120 million inhabitants, is home to more than 400,000 South Sudanese refugees — and as of April of this year around 4,000 Sudanese refugees — together with 600,000 Somalis, Eritreans, Yemenis and Syrians, and has recently seen more than 100,000 Ethiopian migrants return from the Gulf Arab countries. We spoke about all these things with the 74-year-old Cardinal — in his home located behind the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the Ethiopian capital — who hosted the African Continental Assembly of the Synod on Synodality in the Church in early March of this year.
Cardinal Souraphiel has been at the head of the Archdiocese since July 1999. That year, he also became the President of the Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia and Eritrea, which was united until 2015. The shepherd of a small flock of about 12,000 Catholics (less than two percent of the 16 million inhabitants of the ecclesiastical province of Addis Ababa), he reminded us that the more than 200 participants at the Synod meeting emphasized the family as “the image of the Church in Africa”. A family that “should be inclusive” with young people, the elderly, and especially young single women with children and the increasingly common “single-parent family” in the new Africa.
To strengthen women’s participation in the life and works of the Church, the Ethiopian Cardinal told us, the Synod Assembly reiterated the need to focus on formation and support for the “extended family” that is typical of Africa and which includes grandparents, uncles and aunts. In Ethiopia, the aim is to reach 430 schools run by the diocesan clergy and religious congregations, and the new Catholic University, ecusta — dedicated to Saint Thomas Aquinas — which the Ethiopian bishops are building on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, in collaboration with Brothers of the Christian Schools. “Because we believe,” the Archbishop explained, that “education is crucial to change the mentality and also to bring solidarity among the different ethnic and tribal groups of Ethiopia”.
In Juba, South Sudan, where the Ethiopian Cardinal was present in February for the Pope’s visit, he said he “saw many young Ethiopians, Kenyans, Eritreans, Ugandans working there”. Noting that there is work within Africa, he explained that many African borders are artificial, established by former colonizers. If they were open, he added, young people would be able to move better, change their situation, and “get out of poverty and be able to defend the dignity of the human person”.
Training young Africans is also the focus of a pilot project launched by the gsf in Addis Ababa in late 2020, in collaboration with women’s and men’s religious congregations, with the goal of working with private companies and international organizations to support their commitment to improving the lives of the most vulnerable people, “returning” migrants, refugees from other African countries, and internally displaced persons. It has done so by supporting the establishment of an inter-congregational “consortium”, or network, which now involves Salesians and Salesian Sisters (Daughters of Mary Help of Christians), Ursuline Sisters, Missionaries of Charity and Jesuits (through the Jesuit Refugee Service), coordinated by the archdiocesan Socio-Pastoral Commission. Each congregation has its own role in creating a virtuous pathway, which has so far helped more than 1,500 beneficiaries acquire skills through vocational training, enabling them to enter the local labour market, either as employees of a company or as owners of their own micro-business.
Cardinal Souraphiel is familiar with the gsf project, having visited some training and job placement centres. He said he was so grateful for its success that he proposed exporting it to other Ethiopian dioceses as well as other African countries. He recalled the plight of many young women (young people make up 70 percent of the Ethiopian population) who migrate to Gulf countries to work as domestic workers. “But they are not prepared enough”, he told us. “The transition from an Ethiopian village to a skyscraper in Dubai” is often traumatic, he said, and he recounted that in the past months, nearly 100,000 domestic workers, men and women, have been sent back to Ethiopia from Saudi Arabia. He said many of them have been abused and have lost hope, and see their return as a failure. They do not have the courage to return to the villages where they had promised to send money. But they do not even have money to survive in a big city like Addis Ababa. These “returning“ Ethiopian migrants are the first beneficiaries of the “consortium” project promoted by the Global Solidarity Fund.
The Congregations involved in the project not only provide shelter but also teach the migrants, refugees, and idp s new skills, Cardinal Souraphiel highlighted, so that they can change their lives without leaving the country. It’s a great help to young mothers who live alone with their children. Single mothers are able to entrust their children to the sisters and go to classes to learn different skills for work. Some have been able to start their own small self-employment ventures. Others are employed in various companies in Addis Ababa, where they can make a living. Their experience, the Ethiopian Cardinal assured, is also important for those who are now returning after having emigrated. Beneficiaries can talk to their brothers and sisters, to convince them not to lose hope, and to help them realize that, thanks to the gsf ’s project with the congregations, they can learn many new skills, to change their lives without leaving Ethiopia.
By Alessandro Di Bussolo
from Addis Ababa