Keeping Ethiopia’s Young Charismatics in the Church

Support from Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is helping to keep young Ethiopian charismatics in the Catholic Church amid growing enthusiasm for Pentecostal Christianity.

Bishop Lesane-Christos Matheos, Auxiliary Bishop of Addis Ababa, told ACN that the charismatic renewal is growing among young Catholics, especially in the Ethiopian capital.

The charismatic movement’s Pentecostal worship style is attracting young people who can often be dissatisfied with the traditional liturgy which has been used in Ethiopia for more than 1,500 years.

This in turn has prompted a fall in people attending the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, by far the largest Christian denomination in the country, which has for the most part resisted calls to embrace the charismatic movement.

But the Catholic Church in Ethiopia, which numbers about 800,000, has attempted to reach out to its young charismatics with a range of new initiatives.

Bishop Lesane-Christos praised Aid to the Church in Need for supporting youth programs in the Archdiocese of Addis Ababa and went on to describe new plans, backed by ACN, which involve underpinning charismatic practice with classic Catholic teaching, including Marian devotion and emphasis on the Eucharist, as well as Confession.

Stressing the value of Pentecostal worship styles, Bishop Lesane-Christos, who was ordained bishop in April, said, “It attracts young people and gives them direction and challenges them. It helps cultivate the life of young people to live their faith.”

Thanking ACN for its help, Bishop Lesane-Christos said the charity’s support “has resulted in the young being integrated with the Church.”

With ACN’s support, the Church will be implementing a program to train the leaders of the Charismatic Renewal and give groups a better understanding of Catholic teaching.

Bishop Lesane-Christos, former director of Addis’ Archdiocesan Catholic Secretariat, said the vast majority have retained their Orthodox beliefs and remained separate from Protestant Pentecostal communities. Such groups are called “Orthopente.”

He went on to explain that in the past Ethiopian Orthodox priests reached out to charismatics but that recently their bishops have clamped down on involvement with the new movements.

Bishop Lesane-Christos said he had been very impressed by the Ethiopian Orthodox model of engagement with charismatics. He said, “It was very dynamic and very integrated to the faith. Priests and deacons were very involved.”

But, according to Bishop Lesane-Christos, some groups in the Catholic Church have not received a thorough grounding in Catholic teaching, as few priests have been involved with the charismatic renewal.

He said, “Some [priests] are suspicious of the charismatic renewal because of similarities with Pentecostal groups.”

The bishop added, “It doesn’t help to abandon it – that would bring a great negative impact. We need to embrace it.”

Bishop Lesane-Christos described the steps being taken so that “it grows as a proper movement of the Catholic Church.”

As part of the five-year pastoral plan in Addis Ababa Diocese they will send lay leaders to Uganda or India “to see the authentic charismatic movement” and invite charismatic groups to teach leaders to reduce some of the “unhealthy spirituality” that Fr. Bishop Lesane-Christos said can exist in the movement.

One problem is over-emotionalism – “emotion is not bad, God communicates through emotion, but we don’t want just emotion, we also need to involve the mind.”

He said, “Some people have the feeling that only charismatics are saved – it is an extreme way of thinking. The charismatic renewal movement mustn’t become a ghetto; it needs to be inclusive.”

Bishop Lesane-Christos continued, “Sometimes the Spirit reveals itself in the charismatic way, but it also works in another way.”

“They have to open their eyes to see the spirit leading the church in other lay activities.”

A revised and expanded version of the Life in the Spirit seminars – a basic Catholic charismatic teaching course – is now used by some groups in Ethiopia, which include teaching on areas where there may be doubt, such as the Eucharist.

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