On a rocky hillside, climbing the steps cut from the rock, one arrives at the Salesian Centre at Guala, just above Adigrat (Ethiopia). A community of young people preparing themselves to follow Don Bosco. It is a house of formation for students of philosophy and theology. Nearby, in happy Salesian style, an oratory and youth centre have been added. In 1990, at the end of a visit to the community, Abuna Sebhat-Leab Worku, bishop of Adigrat, said with a smile: “I am happy to see that you have transformed this rock into a hill of prayer”. In reality the transformation came about largely through his own efforts. He had been the first Ethiopian priest to become a Salesian. And it was he who had strongly sought the coming of Salesian missionaries to Ethiopia, first to Makallè (1975), then to Adigrat. The Salesians, five years earlier, had begun building their residence amongst these stones, very close to the tiny home belonging to Giustino de Jacobis, the same year of the first arrivalo of the Salesians in Ethiopia) was canonised by Pope Paul. VI.
Adigrat, close to the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea, had for decades been caught up in a war of independence by Eritrea. At the beginning of the 90’s an alliance between the Eritrean Liberation Front and Tigray brought down the dictator Menghistu. But a few years later, war broke out between the two nations.
“The hostilities impacted seriously on our work”, said Fr Philip Dore, for three years Rector of the Salesian community at Adigrat. “Hundreds of people were victims of armed groups, while thousands more had to flee the country to seek refuge elsewhere. These displacements of entire families brought many of them to the limits of endurance. Requests for food, protection and a place to live have been ever on the increase. In this emergency situation we sought to bring our efforts to bear on these displaced families, in cooperation with other humanitarian groups working there”
Thus social activity went side by side with the primary focus of the Salesian house at Adigrat, the fostering a support given to vocations. The task had been first taken up by the community at Makallè, but when the seminarians were getting towards the end of their secondary schooling, a better place was sought for them to continue their studies. One of the main reasons for choosing Adigrat was the fact that this city is where the diocesan major seminary is located, and it is affiliated to the Urbanianum University in Rome.
DON BOSCO HAS ATTRACTED YOUNG AFRICANS
Don Bosco's charism fascinates young people from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Tomorrow’s Salesians are being prepared at Adigrat Ethiopian Salesians. “Don Bosco’s system - the Preventive System - offers young Ethiopians and Eritreans the possibility of a formation which brings about their maturity through healthy criteria, based on values which allow them to be part of society and gurantee their success as people involved in building a better society. The witness of community and a catechetical formation present Christians with the challenges of the Gospel and help them to be builders of the Kingdom. Without ignoring education and religious formation for all, the Salesian community has devoted its energy to also fostering vocations to Salesian religious life. The missionaries are birds of passage however. It will be local Salesians who bring Don Bosco to their own culture".
“In this work for vocations”, say the Salesians, “we have been assisted by cultural, historical and other local factors: Ethiopia has been Christian from the earliest times and has its own strong monastic tradition. It is the only African nation which ahs been faithful to the Gospel over almost two thousand years, with a strong religious spirit, great devotion to Our Lady and to a spirit of sacrifice. Catholic families vie with one another to have a child as a Religious or priest and are an excellent support for vocations
As fruit of these years of of vocational activity, Ethiopian and Eritrean Salesians who have made their profession now number more than 80 since 1986. Of these, 16 have been ordained priest between 1991 and 2006. Another twelve have made their final profession as Salesian Brothers. Eighteen are students of phgilosophy and theology and a further three are doing other studies. In a few years time, well- prepared by appropriate courses, they can take up theever-increasing degree of responsibility for communities and works.
There are currently six novices in Debre Zeit, six pre-novices in Addis Abeba-Mekanissa and three in Dekemharè, and around a hundred aspirants in various minor seminaries. There is a real project in place for young confreres being prepared to take up their responsibilities.