One of the great joys of this ministry is meeting people from around the world and hearing their stories. As you can imagine, they are as varied as the places from which they come. A recent visitor to our office is a member of a relatively young order. Founded by a Dominican priest, the Brothers of St. John have been in existence for forty-seven years. Their charism is threefold: to follow Christ as St. John did, to form their hearts and minds in the ways of St. John the Apostle, and to offer centers of formation for those searching for meaning in their lives, especially youth and families.
Father Philippe-Francois, the prior of the Ethiopian abbey, explained that the order is made up of brothers, sisters, and lay associates called oblates. Some brothers choose to go on to be ordained as a deacon and then priest, as Father Philippe did.
Father Philippe's ministry is in a country that is struggling in many ways. First, there is a two-year-old conflict between government forces and a group called the Tigray People's Liberation Front. The African Union has negotiated multiple ceasefires that never seem to last. Human Rights Watch reports civilian structures such as schools, hospitals, and factories have been destroyed in the fighting. Access to humanitarian aid has been restricted; more than two million people have been forced to flee their homes.
A second devastating issue is drought. Ethiopia is currently suffering from its worst drought in forty years, forcing people to abandon their homes and walk hundreds of miles with their livestock in search of water. Many of their animals die along the trip, meaning less income for the herdsmen.
Just a few days ago, much needed grain arrived on ships released from Ukraine. The UN hopes to reach 11.5 million people by the end of this year.
Amidst this daily violence and insecurity, the Brothers of Saint John bring the Gospel messages of peace, hope and charity. Though they normally host camps closer to their abbey, in response to a request for help from the Missionaries of Charity Sisters, two Brothers drove two hours south of the capital city of Addis Ababa to take part in the Charity Mission Camp. They taught English and ethics in the morning to 300 children, kindergarteners through fourth graders. Later, there was soccer, singing, and evening adoration. They also trained five young people to continue the work after they left. The mission goes on!
In a place plagued by strife and natural disasters, the Brothers of St. John bring the peace of Christ -- through prayer and missionary simplicity.
- Maureen Crowley Heil is Director of Programs and Development for the Pontifical Mission Societies, Boston.