CROMWELL – Holy Apostles College and Seminary in September was host to the highest-ranking churchman of the newly formed Catholic Church of Eritrea, East Africa, Archeparch Menghesteab Tesfamariam. He was in town to express his gratitude to the seminary for providing distance learning opportunities for 21 priests and nuns who are unable to leave their country.
Archeparch Menghesteab is a member of the Alexandrian Rite, one of five major eastern-born rites of the Catholic Church, and which is in full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Eparchies and archeparchies correspond in the Latin Rite to dioceses and archdioceses.
“Tesfamariam means ‘Hope of Mary,’” Archeparch Menghesteab told the Transcript. “Menghesteab is ‘Kingdom of the Father.’ We don’t have family names. We have baptism names.”
He said that in the summer of 2014 he was looking for a distance learning program and contacted Patrick Carmack, founder and CEO of Angelicum Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. “It seems he knew Dr. Sebastian Mahfood [vice president of administration at Holy Apostles], and he put me in contact with Sebastian,” he said. The online learning program with the Archeparchy of Asmara, the head of the Eritrean Catholic Church, began in January 2015, he said.
January 2015 was also when Pope Francis declared that the Eritrean Catholic Church was an autonomous or sui juris (in its own right) metropolitan church, differentiated from the Ethiopian Catholic Church. Then Archbishop of Asmara (Eritrea’s capital) Menghesteab was elevated to Archeparch of Asmara.
“It is a great privilege for me to be here before you and share my thoughts about our church,” he told about 100 students, priests and sisters in a talk in the basement of Our Lady, Queen of Apostles Chapel. He said he had been looking forward to visiting Holy Apostles. “Now I am in the place.… I felt at home as soon as I got here.”
He said, “It is wonderful to be a Catholic, because wherever we go we are at home, and our churches help each other. ... I don’t feel a stranger. We feel at home because we have one faith, one Lord, one baptism.”
In a PowerPoint presentation, he showed the location of Eritrea, between Sudan to the west and the Red Sea to the east. Eritrea, he said, means “country by the Red Sea.” The country of about 5 million people is divided about equally between Christians and Muslims. About 4 percent are Catholic, he said.
Besides the Archeparchy of Asmara, there are three eparchs: the Eparchy of Keren, the Eparchy of Barentu and the Eparchy of Segeneiti, he said.
Eritrea’s resources are limited, he said, and the Internet connection is slow. In addition, many Catholics are being attracted to other beliefs. “When I go around in the parishes, I see the population of the parishes diminishing by the day,” he said.
“The parishes are getting weaker and weaker, so that is a big pastoral issue for us.”
In a question-and-answer session, a seminarian asked, “As seminarians and future priests, how can we help you?”
“Pray for us,” Archeparch Menghesteab said.
In an interview with the Transcript earlier, he said he wanted to impress on the students that they have great gifts and great opportunities in this country. “I said yesterday morning at Mass, ‘Learning is a great opportunity, but always learning must go together with wisdom.’ If learning is only about collecting information we become big-headed,” he said.
He said he also wanted the students to take full advantage of social media as a tool for evangelization.
“I think the great challenge is always evangelization,” he continued. “We need to keep our youth updated with the faith, with the Gospel, with the Bible, with catechesis. We get used to certain ways of doing things; it becomes routine. You don’t bring renewal into the lives of the people of the church. So we need really to continue to be creative in how to present the Gospel, how to help people to live a genuine Christian life. It is never enough.”