Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sui Juris Churches XV: The Eritrean Catholic Church

(on sui juris churches in general)

Liturgical Family: Alexandrian

Primary Liturgical Language: Ge'ez

Juridical Status: Metropolitan

Approximate Population (to Nearest 10,000): 160,000

Brief History: The relationship of Eritrean Christianity to Ethiopian Christianity has always been complicated by the difficult relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Eritrea was converted to Christianity along with Ethiopia as part of the Kingdom of Aksum, but as Aksum's might waned, the kingdom of Medri Bahri rose; it was a Christian kingdom, and fought off the Adal Sultanate, but it was often in conflict with the Abyssinian Kingdom from which modern-day Ethiopia descends. In 1517 it temporarily became part of the Ottoman Empire; the Ottomans would eventually be driven out, but still remained a major influence until the coming of the Italians at the end of the nineteenth century. This Italian period, which lasted until the British threw the Italians out in 1941, saw the arrival of many Catholic missionaries. In 1930 an Ordinariate was established for Catholics in Eritrea, but it was a Latin Rite Ordinariate. In 1951, the British left, and the Ordinariate for Eritrea was abolished, replaced by an exarchate that was attached to the Ethiopian Catholic Church. In 1959 a separate Latin Rite Vicariate was established for Latin Rite Eritreans, and in 1961, Eritrea's status was raised from an exarchate to an eparchy.

Despite a strong desire for independence, the country was federated with Ethiopia under pressure from the United Nations; Emperor Haile Selassie would then forcibly annex the country in 1962. This led to a decades-long war until Eritrea finally established independence in 1993. In response to the independence, John Paul II reorganized the eparchial structure of the country and abolished the Latin Vicariate (which was, in any case, caring for a dwindling population), thus putting all Latin Rite Catholics under the authority of the Ethiopian Catholic bishops of Eritrea, making the nation the only nation in the world in which all Catholics regardless of rite are under the authority of Eastern Catholic bishops. In 2015, Francis detached the Eritrean eparchies from the Ethiopian Catholic Church and raised the eparchy of Asmara to a Metropolitan Archeparchy.

Notable Monuments: St. Joseph's Cathedral in Asmara.

Notable Saints: St. Justin de Jacobis (July 31); St. Frumentius (October 27); St. Kaleb Elesbaan of Axum (October 27).

Extent of Official Jurisdiction: The Archeparchy of Asmara and three suffragan eparchies, all in Eritrea. (Sphere of influence always extends beyond the official jurisdiction due to members of the church living outside of any official jurisdiction of the church.)

Online Sources and Resources:





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