Three members of the Community of St. John have moved to Ethiopia to take over youth work – but they still have a lot of progress to make with the language.
The Community of Saint John, which has priories throughout Europe, was asked by Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Addis Ababa to be Youth Chaplains for the archdiocese.
Br. Lovane, who is one of three brothers who went to Ethiopia to set up the youth ministry, explained how one of their biggest challenges has been learning a new language.
In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which helped to fund the community’s mission in Ethiopia, Br. Lovane emphasized the challenge of learning Amharic, the official federal language but one of 80 spoken in Ethiopia.
He said, “We have had three hours a day in Amharic.”
Br. Lovane explained how the language has similar roots to Hebrew, and that its alphabet has as many as 277 different characters.
But for Br. Lovane, the difficulty of learning Amharic is nothing compared with the fact that the community is there to answer God’s call.
He said, “You have to know why you’re here. If you are here on mission, then it’s [God’s] will to spread His word to the end of the earth, as it says in Matthew’s Gospel.”
“You have to speak the language to communicate with the young people – it’s not a question of whether it’s difficult or not. What matters is that it’s what the Lord is calling me to do.”
He said the call of God was seen as more important than any problem the fledging community faces.
“When you switch on the light sometimes it doesn’t come on, when you turn on the tap sometimes no water comes out, but this is not an issue compared to the mission we have from the Lord.”
The brothers arrived shortly after the diocese had conducted a survey of young people asking them what they wanted from the Church – and results showed they wanted more teaching about the faith.
So, with support from Aid to the Church in Need, the Community of Saint John have organized teaching sessions where they try their best to answer the young people’s questions – ideally with no more than 50 people so that the sessions can be interactive.
They speak English to university students – all instruction in secondary schools and universities in Ethiopia is in English – and via translators to other young people, until they are fluent in Amharic.
They have also organized concerts, and praise and worship events, such as the Hosanna Festival on Palm Sunday, which had 3-400 young people in attendance.
ACN supported the community’s youth events with a grant of more than $13,000 – and has just agreed to provide $19,000 towards a car which will be vital for the growth of the Archdiocese of Addis Ababa’s youth work.
Br. Lovane described how in Addis Ababa Archdiocese youth are rooted in their Christian tradition – including the fourth century Ge’ez liturgy.
He said, “They have a faith, a sense of adoration through liturgy that is just amazing.”
“I’ve never seen that anywhere else – and I’m not talking about Eucharistic Adoration – what I mean is while singing at the entrance of Mass they are connected to God, worshipping God in a personal context.”
“If they build a life on that faith, they will triumph.”
He added, “In the Latin Church, it took us centuries to discover Eucharistic adoration, and in some parishes there are still problems with rooting it in our daily life, but in that Church they are rooted in adoration.”
“I am trying to remain astonished by what I see and bless the Lord for it.”