Eritrea: Catholic Church in Shock as State Expels Missionaries


Nairobi: November 15, 2007. The Eritrean government has thrown the Catholic Church into tension by expelling 13 missionaries in unclear circumstances.

Reliable sources have confirmed to CISA that the missionaries, including a Kenyan, were given 14 days to leave the country, beginning November 6. The expulsion, our sources say, is part of a wider plot by the Maoist dictatorship of President Isaias Afewerki to destroy the Catholic Church in the Horn of Africa nation. The missionary news agency MISNA reports that the expulsion order was issued to four Comboni fathers (2 Mexicans, a Filipino and a Kenyan), 2 Comboni sisters, 2 Pavonian fathers, 2 Filipino Pius Teachers, 2 nuns of an unspecified congregation and a lay missionary. The lay missionary, an Italian national, was a volunteer working as secretary for the Bishop of Barentu, south-west of Eritrea. Two of the 13 missionaries, a Comboni father and sister, are already outside of Eritrea, but for personal reasons, according to MISNA. The reasons for the expulsion remain unclear. But sources told MISNA that two years ago the government gave notice to some missionary institutes to prepare local personnel ahead of a planned exit of foreigners from the nation. Eritrea has one of the worst records of religious freedom violations in the world. More than 90 percent of its people belong to four recognized religions: Orthodox, Catholicism, Lutheran and Islam. Members of unrecognized churches are often detained and tortured. The annual International Religious Freedom Report issued by the United States of America this September says religious freedom worsened in 2006. The government severely restricted the freedom of religion for groups that it had not registered and infringed upon the independence of some registered groups. Following a 2002 decree that religious groups must register, the government closed all religious facilities not belonging to the country`s four principal faith groups. It continued to harass, arrest, and detain members of independent evangelical groups and sought greater control over the approved religious groups. The government also meddled with the Eritrean Orthodox Church by supplanting the patriarch in favour of its own candidate. It failed to register four religious groups that had applied in 2002, and it restricted religious meetings and arrested individuals during religious ceremonies, gatherings, and prayer meetings. According to media reports, many hundreds of religious detainees continue to be held without due process in harsh conditions that include extreme temperature fluctuations with limited or no access to family.

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