Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Agenzia Fides REPORT –“Education and aid for children, general healthcare, and pastoral care of the youth are among the Church's main priorities in Ethiopia,” Apostolic Vicar of Soddo, Ethiopia tells Fides
On the occasion of the upcoming World Food Day to be celebrated on October 16, Fides met with Bishop Rodrigo Mejia, SJ, who has served as Apostolic Vicar in Soddo, Ethiopia, for 4 years. The country is plagued by this disease cycle that continues to afflict over 925 million people around the world. Fides: How is the country dealing with the problem of hunger?Bishop Mejía: Hunger in Ethiopia is a regular challenge, because people generally live off of the agriculture, there are few industries, and more than 70% of the country is rural. Much depends on rainfall. This year, it has rained heavily in the south, but less in the north. Unfortunately, in the last twenty years there has been an irregularity of rainfall that does not allow farmers to determine the period favorable for planting and harvests. A big problem is the lack of large-scale irrigation systems. The rivers flow downwards from the mountains and canyons, while the fertile land is higher up. Pumps would be needed to reach them, but that would be too expensive. Another phenomenon that occurs is that of the local hunger. There are, in fact, small areas of 10-12 square kilometers in which there is no rain and people go hungry, while at a short distance it rains and people have to eat. Unfortunately, in the land in Ethiopia does not provide enough to eat for everyone. At this time in the country there are about 75 million inhabitants, after Nigeria and Egypt, it is the third most populous country in Africa. Fides: Are there food programs in the country to protect children? Bishop Mejia: We as the Church, in addition to an educational program available to children, are working on providing food for them. Every day, we distribute food to 150 children who attend kindergarten, and so far, none of our children so far has ever died of malnutrition. Unfortunately, there are many others without anything to eat and to help them, we work alongside the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa, who receive donations and food and enjoy a greater freedom in its distribution. In fact, for us there is also the problem of distribution, because without authorization from the government one cannot intervene. It often happens that we have food in storage, but we cannot distribute it to people without their permission. They do not let us work as we would like, because of the great many NGOs in the country, which in reality do not always help the people that much. We have nearly 2,000 children in 13 kindergartens and 3 primary schools and there is not enough food for everyone. Fides: Is the spread of disease particularly worsened by the lack of water in the country? Bishop Mejía: Yes, mainly because of the lack of clean water. We try to remedy the problem with the construction of wells dug by hand up to 50 meters deep, and others dug by a drilling machine, of up to 120 meters in depth. We proceed slowly, for lack of financial resources.Fides: How does the Church intervene in healthcare? Bishop Mejia: We have a very efficient general hospital of the Vicariate of Soddo with 100 beds and five permanent doctors who provide surgery, maternity, and paediatric services. We also have two satellite clinics in two larger villages, assisted by religious sisters and nurses. The government cooperates with us, relatively. Only now, after many years, have they decided to pay two doctors. However, the school teachers must be taken care of by the Vicariate of Soddo. We must always ask permission and give an account of everything we do. The government as such has few resources and the regional government is the one that should help us. Unfortunately, it is a highly populated area and it is not easy. There are almost 400 square kilometers of rural area and the government even asks us for contributions in the construction of roads and bridges. They think that the Catholic Church is a billionaire! Fides: What is your personal role in the Vicariate? Bishop Mejía: As a bishop, I deal with all the pastoral care of 20 parishes and as it is a very young diocese, I am also very involved in pastoral ministry with young people, catechesis, advancement of women, education for justice and human rights that we integrate into the catechesis, projects for the construction of water wells, etc. We also have an office that deals with development projects for which we receive a lot of support, while we receive less for those of pastoral care. People respond very well to the evangelization and there is a large number of catechumens. The country is very poor and there is a high rate of unemployment, although some progress is being achieved with the construction of roads. There are now more schools and universities, but when young people finish their studies they cannot find work. The exodus of young people from Ethiopia to northern countries is huge. We have had to send priests out to the Ethiopian communities in Europe and the United States. The problem is that people leave and do not return. Recently, there are growing Chinese, Arab, and other industries that are bringing a bit of money and work, but we do not know how much benefit it will actually bring to the country. In 2010, the Apostolic Vicariate of Soddo, which has a total population of 4,300,000, 115,000 people were baptized. There are 20 parishes, 22 diocesan priests, 16 religious priests, 27 religious men, and 41 religious women.

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