AFRICA/ETHIOPIA - The only Catholic presence in the boundless Somali region of Ogaden
Gode (Agenzia Fides) - Father Christopher Hartley Sartorios, Spanish, a 55-year-old diocesan missionary from Toledo, is the only Catholic priest who has ever reached the Somali region of Ethiopia called Ogaden, where he has been living alone for 7 years in Gode, a territory which is 100% Muslim.
During a recent visit to Rome, he told Fides Agency how he began his mission there. "In February 2007 I attended a meeting of the Missionaries of Charity in Addis Ababa with Sister Nirmala, the then Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa, and the Regional Superior for Ethiopia", says Fr. Sartorios . "I had planned to go to any place on earth where the nuns did not have a house because there was no priest. As we stood in front of a huge map of Ethiopia where 16 houses of the Sisters of Mother Teresa with 100 sisters were marked I realized that there was absolutely nothing in the entire eastern part of the Country. The sisters told me that in that region, on the border with Somalia, there had never been any presence of the Catholic Church".
This is a totally Muslim area, mainly composed of ethnic Somali nomadic clans". After the conversation - continues the missionary - I began to reflect and repeat to myself: 'the Church has never arrived in the Somali region of Ethiopia?' I got closer to the map and saw that in this immense desert, along the border with Somalia there was a name written in capital letters, so I thought it was the largest and most populated city, Gode, close to a river, the Wabi Shebele, which from Somalia flows into the Indian Ocean".
So this is how Father Christopher now finds himself in the region called Ogaden, in Gode, a town with less than 50 thousand inhabitants, three quarters of whom are illiterate". The Missionaries of Charity accepted my proposal after discussing the project with the Archbishop of Addis Ababa, Berhaneyesus Souraphiel, who wanted to explain that I was going to live in a very dangerous place and that I had to inform my Bishop of Toledo, Cardinal Antonio Cañizares, who gave me his blessing. Now I am here alone, waiting for the arrival of the Sisters of Mother Teresa. Almost every day I celebrate Mass alone or with up to 3 or 4 members. I am sure that the Lord wanted me here because I am a priest and if there is no priest there is no Eucharist. Now I am in communion with the bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Harar, Msg. Woldetensay, to which the region belongs, even though we are separated by more than a thousand miles of sand and the nearest Catholic priest is 700 miles away" (AP) (Agenzia Fides 04/03/2014)
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