Joseph Andreas really does not know just how old he is. Here in Pawe, a remote village in north-west Ethiopia, such numbers mean very little. But one thing this parish elder does know is this: his faith means everything to him.

It has always been this way. Indeed, in the 1980s, during the terror of the communist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, he was even arrested for his faith. The charge was gathering to pray together with other Catholics. Joseph somehow survived, but countless others paid with their lives for their fidelity to Christ. Joseph explains: ‘We were kept under constant observation and had to work all the time, even on Sundays. And so we met together early in the morning, in a secret place. They had taken our Bibles away, torn them up and thrown them in the fire. They told us that anyone who preached was teaching people to become idlers. We had no priest, and so we had to preserve the Christian spirit by ourselves.’ Those who could manage to do so took their children to the town of Bahir Dar to have them baptised there. But it was a long journey. Even by car it takes more than four hours.

When the dictatorship finally ended in 1991, priests were last able to visit the remote villages once more. But these sporadic visits were not enough for Joseph Andreas. ‘We needed a priest to be with us constantly, and also a chapel of our own. The Protestant sects were immediately active, trying to woo away the faithful. And so I travelled the nearly 400 miles, at my own expense, to Addis Ababa to see the Archbishop and ask him for a priest and a church.’

The first chapel built by the faithful had a thatched roof, just like all the other huts in the region. In the pitiless drought of the dry season it caught fire and the chapel burned down. But the people did not let themselves be discouraged and built a chapel of wood instead. This time fate struck an even harder blow – termites ate through the timbers and the church collapsed. Two people died, and another man was so severely injured that he has been paralysed ever since. Six children were left without one of their parents. ‘The two men who died were among the most committed members of our community and constantly encouraged us to strengthen our spiritual life and do more. We regard them as martyrs’, says Joseph, deeply moved. Now at last they have begun to build a solid and permanent church. Despite their great poverty, the faithful have contributed greatly to the building. Once again they have made great sacrifices. Now ACN is hoping to help them, so that the chapel can very soon be consecrated. Their misfortunes have actually strengthened the people in their faith. ‘We say that our new chapel has been built by the blood of the martyrs, and that gives us strength’, the father of seven declares proudly. The Church is very much alive in Pawe. Every Sunday large numbers of the faithful flock to Holy Mass, and on Pentecost no fewer than 30 children made their First Holy Communion. The seed that Joseph Andreas and his other nameless fellow Christians have sown is now bearing rich fruit.

Eva-Maria Kolmann

This article can be found in Mirror 0612.