Ethiopia is an ancient Christian country. “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” So says the Ethiopian to Philip in the Acts of the Apostles (8:36). This spontaneous decision, just a few years after the death of Jesus, marks the beginning of Christianity in Africa, and Ethiopia is the first country in sub-Saharan Africa in which Christianity put down permanent roots.
Almost 45% of Ethiopians belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. The Catholic Church only became established in the country in the 19th century, and today Catholics still form only a tiny, albeit a very lively, minority.
(A young boy prays to Our Lady at the Salesian Youth Centre in the Mary Help of Christians Church in Addis Abeba © Aid to the Church in Need)
Our Lady is greatly revered in Ethiopia, both by Orthodox and by Catholic Christians. In fact there are 33 Marian feasts in the Ethiopian Church year! Traditionally, great importance is attached to the “Covenant of Mercy”, also known as the “Covenant of the Lady Mary”. This relates to a covenant popularly believed to have been made between Mary and Jesus whereby Mary asks of her Son that every individual who in his lifetime has performed at least one good deed in her name may be spared from hell - for example someone who for her sake has given a thirsty person a sip of water. This motif of the “Covenant of Mercy” is an extremely popular theme of Ethiopian icons, in which Mary and Jesus are portrayed side by side, holding hands. In fact pictures of the Virgin Mary of all kinds are extremely common, above all the image of Our Lady with the Child Jesus, but also depicting other scenes from her life, such as the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity and the Flight into Egypt. Meanwhile, however, among Catholic Christians in Ethiopia numerous other Western images and statues of Mary have become popular and likewise widely revered, and there is great interest in knowing more about such international Marian shrines as Lourdes, Fatima and many others besides.
Ethiopian Capuchin Father Antonios Alberto has written a number of books on a variety of academic themes. Now he has written a book on devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, outlining the great importance of the Mother of God for the Church. In his book he describes the history of Marian devotion, explains the Marian dogmas of the Catholic Church and describes in detail the history of the major Marian shrines around the world. The book is 200 pages long and written in two languages - Amharic, the principal language spoken in Ethiopia, and English. A book of this nature has not hitherto been available to the Church in Ethiopia. It will therefore help to deepen and strengthen knowledge of, and devotion to, the Mother of God among priests, religious, catechists and the Catholic faithful generally. It is also potentially an important contribution to the work of ecumenism, since this book will also be valuable and interesting to Orthodox Christians, who likewise have a profound devotion to Our Lady. The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is supporting the publication and printing of this book with a contribution of $9,750.
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