The Catholic Bishops of Eritrea have denounced the state appropriation of Catholic schools and health facilities, the latest casualties of the country’s governmental overreach.
“We, pastors and leaders of the Catholic Church in Eritrea, are deeply saddened and intimately hurt by the measures that the government is taking or has already taken by force,” the bishops said in their letter this week, adding, “taking away from us the educational and health institutions that legitimately belong to us, and limiting our service to the country.”
Already in 2019, the Eritrean government closed seven religious schools, four of them directed by the Catholic Church, a move the bishops said was motivated by “hatred against the faith.” All seven schools were tuition-free and were attended by children from the poorest and most disadvantaged families.
“If this is not hatred against the faith and against religion what else can it be?” the Eritrean bishops asked in a letter at the time to the minister of Public Education, Semere Re’esom, further stating that the appropriation of educational and health institutions was “contrary to the rights and to the legitimate freedom of the Church.”
Observers suggested at the time that the appropriation of Church property was undertaken in retaliation against the Catholic Church for its insistence on effective reform policies, the implementation of the 1997 Constitution that never entered into force, and the calling of free elections.
In their letter this week, the bishops formally registered their protest against what they deem the continuing unlawful seizure of Church property.
“The schools and clinics confiscated or closed, or about to be confiscated or closed, are the legitimate property of the Catholic Church, built, established and organised in the supreme and exclusive interest of serving our people,” the bishops said.
“We declare again that she will never cease to demand the return of the social institutions forcibly taken from her and the right to perform all the services of which she has been deprived,” they continued.
The bishops said that the ongoing confiscation of Church-run educational institutions has ranged from kindergartens to primary and secondary schools, adding that their seizure violates the most basic principles of justice.
“Since the measures which the authorities in government have already taken, or are about to take in this regard, violate in principle and in fact the rights and are explicitly detrimental to the most elementary principles of justice, the Catholic Church firmly denounces these measures,” the bishops declared.