VATICAN – The dream and passion for the first evangelization: a missionary talks about his story to the Director of Fides

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Vatican City – “It is important to know and understand what is happening on the other side of the planet to transform a story that is read in prayer and to see how the Church, the disciples of Jesus, reach everywhere and how everywhere the Gospel always has something to say”. This is what Father Emanuele Ciccia, from the Community of Villaregia, a missionary in Ethiopia visiting Fides, says to the director of the Agency, Father Dinh Anh Nhue Nguyen.

Father Anh Nhue: Father Emanuele introduce yourself to our readers together with the Apostolic Prefecture of Robe in which you carry out your mission

Fr. Emanuele: I am a missionary of the Community of Villaregia, founded in 1981, which has several missions in particular in Central and Latin America, in Africa and in Europe. I worked for 12 years in Ivory Coast and at the request of Fr. Angelo Antolini, OFMCap., First Apostolic Prefect of Robe, Ethiopia, together with three sisters and another father, I have been carrying out my service in the Prefecture for a year and a half .
We are in an Apostolic Prefecture, a vast field of first evangelization, with a lot of work to do, to offer a missionary service, to be present and offer an evangelical presence. We work closely with Friar Angelo Antolini, and we share the dream and passion for the first evangelization. There is a strong desire to go to the Ethiopian borders and, upon request, together with the Prefect we are taking the first steps in the federal state called Somali Region, with a population that comes from Somali stock, in a totally Muslim context. Fr. Antolini is pushing hard towards these areas in order, as he says, to “make the Church present. If there are two or three of us, Jesus is present”

Father Anh Nhue: How many inhabitants, Catholic Christians are there in Ethiopia?

Fr. Emanuele: In Ethiopia there are more than one hundred million inhabitants and it is 4 times the size of Italy. It is a bit difficult to define the percentages of Christians and Muslims. Christianity is present in all its facets. Here, in particular it is known for Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, especially in the north. The Catholic Church is a minority and celebrates in two rites, Latin and Eastern, according to the areas and the vicariates. In our Apostolic Prefecture, which is as large as one third of Italy and situated between two important rivers, the Webe Shebelle and the Gandale, there are 95% Muslim brothers.
We are in Robe and Goba, two cities where the Christian presence is slightly above average. We live in Robe, where statistics range between 70,000 and 150,000 inhabitants, while in Goba, which is 10 km away from us, there is a historical presence of the Sisters of Mother Teresa. The first stone of this center was laid by the Saint herself. Among other things, Friar Antolini wanted to name her as patroness of the Apostolic Prefecture of Robe, as a sign of love and care for the poorest . The Sisters of Goba have a center with just over 200 patients suffering from various diseases, physical disabilities, psychological or psychiatric pathologies. There is a special presence of Jesus there in the entire prefecture thanks to these patients!

Fr. Anh Nhue: The sisters live their ordinary service in an extraordinary way, with incredible love, to the point of sacrificing their own lives.

Fr. Emanuele: Their presence is precious for us. The missions are very distant from each other. The one that is a little more structured, with a parish, two hours away, is in Adaba and is made up of two fidei donum priests and a lay sister. The fact of having such a close presence of sisters, only 10 km away, has allowed us to form a group, to live an experience of mutual support and friendship.

Fr. Anh Nhue: But the sisters also need a lot from you, from your presence, from your ordinary activity in the parish. In this sense you complete yourselves, in the proclamation of Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

Father Emanuele: Yes, we are a team, they give us an enormous example of love for the poorest and we offer them the celebration of the Eucharist and we pray together, there is a great friendship between us. They are also a precious help because the city of Robe shows the signs of the poverty in big cities with many street and homeless children. Many times in our presence on the street we make friends with some brothers and sisters who, thank God, the sisters welcome in their center, offering an alternative to those who have lived on the street for years with very tragic stories.

Fr. Anh Nhue: Does the Church in all of Ethiopia have a single Prefecture structurally?

Father Emanuele: Let’s say that ours is a Prefecture of the ‘first chapters of the Acts of the Apostles’. In the north are the eparchies of the Eastern rite, and the ecclesiastical circumscriptions of the Latin rite are only eight vicariates, we do not have dioceses and only one apostolic prefecture. In Africa there are only three prefectures: in Western Sahara, in Libya and us, in Ethiopia.

Fr. Anh Nhue: Could you explain to the readers what your ordinary service is like, what do you do every day?

Fr. Emanuele: We have been present for just a year and a half and as it is wise to do, we continue to listen even though we are already trying to get going. The first service is of close collaboration with Friar Angelo, some of us have assumed some more general services for the Prefecture of an administrative pastoral nature. We started with some social work, small signs the needs of women and young people, we offer help to Catholic schools. We are passionate about being around and making friends and good neighbors with brothers and sisters who come from the Islamic world. We are on the streets a lot to say hello, to meet, to say a few words in Oromo, the local language. We believe that when you go out into the street the Lord is present.

Fr. Anh Nhue: Always following the breath of the Holy Spirit, announcing Christ even when we do not expect him. Is your service primarily directed to non-Catholic and non-Christian people?

Fr. Emanuele: Apart from the more strictly parish service, we are in contact with non-Catholic Christians from the Orthodox world and above all with Muslims.

Fr. Anh Nhue: Do you have a parish in the Prefecture? How many people take part? Are catechetical activities carried out?

Fr. Emanuele: On Sundays about forty people join us who follow us in the ordinary pastoral care. Actually we are trying to rebuild it because they are two parishes in which there has been a very frequent alternation of priests and parish priests. We are trying to start pre-catechumenate days, as in the totally Islamic city of Dinsho where 4, 5 or sometimes 2 or 7 people of Islamic origin want to know the Gospel. With them we are dealing with the Gospel of Mark, which they say is the most kerygmatic, and week after week we hope to be able to deepen our service in this town where there are already two Catholic kindergartens that have given us the opportunity to be present there and thus continue in some other town near or far.

Fr. Anh Nhue: This friendship is very interesting. From that human friendship we transmit that of Christ. Thank you for your service and mission.
Do you wish to say something to our Fides readers all over the world, united in the same mission. As a missionary on the front lines, what would you say, in particular, to baptized missionaries in Italy, Europe or America?

Fr. Emanuele: As a brother in faith, I would like to thank the readers for their desire to know. Sometimes, in the missionary world, there is a lot of insistence that supporting the mission means making offerings, sacrifices for the mission. I believe it is very important to know, to understand what is happening on the other side of the planet. I think it is the best way to transform the news that is read into prayer and to see how the Church, the disciples of Jesus reach everywhere and how everywhere the Gospel always has something to say.
Being informed, knowing what is happening is very important. Also for me, as a missionary, very focused on my reality of Robe, it is important to know other mission, ecclesial contexts, to see how the laity, missionaries, families, other disciples of Jesus on the other side of the world passionately try to bring the Gospel. This makes me grow. You have to know, be curious! Continue reading Fides.

Fr. Anh Nhue: Thank you very much, Fr. Emanuele, for your visit and for your words! Fides tries to inform the whole world about the mission that the Church carries out beyond the borders. If you don’t know, you can’t feel love, you don’t feel inspired. Getting to know the brothers and sisters of faith as you all are doing in various contexts, between the ups and downs of life, moments of illness, of distance, but always in communion with all the brothers and sisters of faith. Let us pray for each other, knowing that so many are suffering and let us share everything in communion and then reach collaboration. Thanks again and good continuation of the mission!

The Prefecture of Robe, erected by Pope Benedict XVI on February 11, 2012, has an area of 103,769 km2, a population of morre than 4 million inhabitants, 1,090 Catholics, 12 churches, 8 priests, 35 baptized in the last year.