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Prayers for Ethiopia grow louder

By Wendy-Ann Clarke

ONTARIO, Canada, (The Catholic Register) – For the Ethiopian Orthodox Church of Canada congregation at St Mary Cathedral in Toronto, prayer vigils for peace in their homeland have been ongoing for the past 30 years.

Those prayers have only grown louder as the escalating conflict in recent months in Ethiopia has created new waves of refugees in the Amhara, Afar and Tigray regions in the north and has directly impacted several parishioners, says Alemayehu Zenebe, program coordinator and office manager at the cathedral.

St Mary’s welcomes Ethiopians of all ethnic groups and non-Ethiopian parishioners as well. It has taken a neutral stance on the conflict and focused efforts on supporting those seeking comfort and resources.

“We are always praying for peace,” said Zenebe. “There are so many people who have been imprisoned or exiled, who have been thrown out or had their family killed so we are always in constant vigil. There is no winner in a war, only losers. We have been in this dark era for the last 30 years.”

The most recent developments in the civil war have drawn global attention to challenges that have been impacting congregants for decades. Under the leadership of Fr Messale Ingeda, the parish has been raising funds to support those with family members who have been displaced or otherwise impacted.

But the work of Catholic organizations with ties to Canada, working on the ground, have been severely impacted due to the conflict. According to reports by Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), an international Catholic organization supporting refugees and internally displaced persons, an estimated 2.1 million people have been displaced in Tigray, the northernmost regional state in the country, over 60,000 people have fled to Sudan and around 5.2 million people of the region are in need of emergency food aid. In Afar, there are over 229,000 internally displaced persons, almost half of them displaced by the ongoing conflict. More than 500,000 people have been displaced in Amhara region.

The conflict has severely affected the economy of the country with inflation on food items exceeding 30 percent. This has worsened the situation of people in regions directly affected by the conflict and in urban areas, including the country’s capital, Addis Ababa. Large numbers of refugees have moved south to the capital in search of a safety. JRS has been involved with the registration of these displaced persons.

“Though it is difficult to speak of hope in a region ravaged by violence, conflict and war, we see hope in the solidarity shown by people in Ethiopia who support (displaced persons) and refugees and who welcome them into their own communities in spite of the difficulties these host communities are encountering themselves,” said Canadian Jesuits International in a statement. “The solidarity and support of the international community is also vital in keeping hope alive amidst the turmoil happening in the country.”

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