The Borana people live in the far south of Ethiopia, in a region bordering on Kenya. In many ways the Catholic Church is in her infancy here, since Catholic missionaries only arrived in the region for the first time 45 years ago. In that time, the Holy Spirit Fathers (Spiritans) who work in this area, have established three parishes and several schools.
The Borana people are mainly nomads who continue to live a nomadic lifestyle, moving from place to place with their herds of cattle in search of grazing lands. Some of the Borana people have settled permanently in the area due to the dedicated work of the missionaries who sank boreholes and made wells for the people to access.
Since this is a very arid region, water is quite simply a matter of life or death. As a result, the Borana people occasionally come into conflict with members of other tribes, when the water supply dwindles and grazing become scarce, or where one tribe drives its herds onto the territory of another. However, since the Catholic Church has been present in the region there have been fewer such conflicts. In the past there was an unwritten law whereby the men had to show courage by fighting. If one‘s opponent drew his weapon, then he too had to be ready to fight. Now things have changed to some extent, since the tribesmen who have embraced Christianity are now immediately ready to make peace.
(A Holy Spirit Father leading a Palm Sunday procession in Ethiopia © Aid to the Church in Need)
The presence of the Church has also improved the lives of women in a number of ways. In the tradition of the Borana people a girl never “marries” but “is married”. She is never even asked for her consent to the marriage, and in the past generally there was no sense of the dignity of the woman. If a girl should fall pregnant before the marriage, she would be sold off to an enemy tribe. But now the Catholic Church is teaching a different understanding of marriage, teaching that both man and woman have an equal dignity in the sight of God. There is also growing interest in education among the people. The Church is encouraging parents to realise that a school education is just as important for girls as for boys. The Holy Spirit Fathers have accordingly opened several schools in this region. Initially the people were mistrustful, but gradually they have come to understand that education can help them to improve their lives and better understand their own rights and dignity. Still more importantly, they can deepen their understanding of their newfound faith by reading the Bible and other religious writings.
There is great interest in Christianity among the people, and especially among the children and young people. The Holy Spirit Fathers want to intensify their work, especially with the young. An example of this work are the meetings organised with young people from other tribes. In this remote and underdeveloped region it is usually very rare for young people to be able to meet and talk with youth from other tribal groups. This is an important experience for such a multi-ethnic country as Ethiopia, where over 80 different ethnic groups rub shoulders, speak many languages, and belong to different religious groups. These meetings would benefit young people who wander away from their own remote and underdeveloped regions into other areas, towns and cities. Unprepared, youth often face major problems coming to terms with what is to them an entirely alien environment.
It is also important for adults to be carefully accompanied on their path of faith. Many of those who are baptised are already married according to traditional tribal customs. When they embrace Christianity they are also helped to prepare for a Christian marriage in church, so that they can thereafter live their lives in a truly Christian spirit. It is evident that the number of the Catholic faithful who attend Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion increases considerably as a result of these marriage preparation programmes. The Holy Spirit Fathers also visit the sick and handicapped who cannot get to church to receive Holy Communion and administer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick.
Another important work the Holy Spirit Fathers is to train the lay catechists who visit the villages to pass on the faith. It is vital that catechists have a sound understanding of the Holy Scriptures and the teaching of the Church, so that they in turn can guide others to the faith and help them to deepen their faith life.
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need has provided a grant of $7,200 to the Holy Spirit Fathers so that they can continue to deepen and intensify their pastoral outreach in this area of primary evangelisation.
The vital work of Catholic charities like Aid to the Church In Need provide a lifeline to the Church wherever she is poor, persecuted or threatened. Please help our work by donating online or send your donation to Aid to the Church in Need, PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills NSW 2153. Ph: (02) 9679-1929