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Eritrean Catholics fast and pray after forced closure of Church health clinics

The Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Asmara (Hailu Wudineh TSEGAYE/Shutterstock)

Government officials have taken over health centres and forced patients to leave

Eritrean Catholics have been called to fast in response to their government’s takeover and shutdown of Catholic health clinics.

In a letter on June 22, Archbishop Menghesteab Tesfamariam of the Eritrean Archeparchy of Asmara said “only the Lord can console us and resolve our problems.”

The call to fast comes during the Eritrean Apostles’ Fast, which lasts between Pentecost and the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. Eritrean Catholics use the Alexandrian rite and follow the Coptic calendar, therefore the fast is celebrated from June 25 to July 11 this year.

On June 12, government officials arrived at the health centres and forced patients to leave, standing guard at all 22 clinics.

The bishops of the Council of Catholic Hierarchy of Eritrea wrote in a letter to the government asking, “How is it possible for such things to happen in a state where the rule of law should be abided by?”

Rebuking the actions of the government, the bishops wrote that “to deprive the Church of these and other social institutions is tantamount to undermining her very existence and to exposing her members – religious men, consecrated women and the laity – to persecution.”

BBC reported that some believe the government’s actions are in response to the Church’s call to slow the flow of emigration.

Eritrea, in the Horn of Africa, comes under regular scrutiny often for human rights violations.

The country has been known to close other religious institutions, as a report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom labelled Eritrea a “country of particular concern” and noted that Catholic and Muslim schools have been shut down by the government.

U.S. and UN officials estimate that hundreds of people are imprisoned for their religious beliefs.

The Eritrean Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea are the only recognized religions, and all others are deemed illegal, according to the report.

This is not the first time Catholic health clinics have been closed by the government.

An Eritrean priest told EWTN in July 2018 that the government had closed eight clinics they claimed were unnecessary due to the existence of state operated clinics.