Eritrean Catholics in London and those standing in solidarity with them engaged in a ‘day of witness and vigil for the Eritrea people and Catholic Church’ on Saturday 2 November.
Bishop Declan Lang, addressing those gathered through his representative Fr Mark Odion MSP, at the Piazza of Westminster Cathedral, expressed his ‘deepest sadness’ at news that the government in Eritrea had seized and closed a number of schools and healthcare facilities run by the Catholic Church and other faith communities in the country.
This year alone 21 healthcare centres have been confiscated in Eritrea. In previous years, a total of eight healthcare centres were nationalised, taking the total to 29 centres forcibly seized by the Eritrean government.
“These healthcare centres are almost exclusively established in rural areas and small towns to serve the needs of the poor and the needy in society,” said Bishop Lang, Chair of the Bishops’ International Affairs department. “The seizure of these facilities is, therefore, tantamount to a huge depravity of healthcare assistance to a large section of the population and certainly will have a lasting negative effect on the poor and may ultimately lead to the loss of innocent lives.”
“Through the schools and health facilities, the Catholic Church in Eritrea serves the most vulnerable members of the society: the sick, the poor, the elderly, women and children. In addition, the Catholic Church runs orphanages and maternity wards in those rural communities. To confiscate these facilities and institutions translates to a denial of the fundamental inalienable human rights of the poor Eritreans to education and medical assistance, thus casting a bleak future for those poor and needy nationals.”
Expressing solidarity with the Eritrean community in the UK and the entire Catholic family in Eritrea over the “unlawful and unconstitutional” confiscation of the schools and healthcare institutions, Bishop Lang praised the humanitarian mission of the Catholic Church in the east African country.
“We are aware of the great remarkable humanitarian service that the Church’s healthcare centres provide to the to all the people of Eritrea and we were distressed to learn of the recent decision by the government to close the healthcare centre and the schools. The Church’s witness in trying to provide the best healthcare to the people of your country, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, is a visible sign of its commitment to the good of Eritrea, and its fidelity to the Gospel.”
The Bishop concluded his address with an appeal to the Eritrean government:
“We join in solidarity with the Eritreans here in the UK to appeal to the Eritrea Government to reconsider their decisions and to return the Schools and healthcare facilities back to the Church.”