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Franciscan Sisters putting their Faith into action in Ethiopia


IN OCTOBER 1984, BBC newsreader Michael Buerk’s powerful report on the famine in Ethiopia shone a light on the tragic situation taking place in the oldest independent country in the African continent. This poignant piece of journalism touched the hearts of many people in Scotland—and indeed throughout the world—and the country’s Catholics, both individuals and parish groups, were inspired to provide whatever support they could to those in need.


In the Church, we often speak about putting our Faith into action and it is something that Missio Scotland—and our partners in the Pontifical Mission Societies—can honestly say that we do 365 days a year. However, we couldn’t do it without the support of Scotland’s Catholics—who are, in effect, lay missionaries—and the missionary priests and sisters worldwide who are charged with identifying a need for certain projects, helping to get them off the ground and maintaining them once they are up and running.


This year, Missio Scotland’s fundraising focus falls on Ethiopia. This is due in no small part to the example set by the lay missionaries from St Teresa’s in Dumfries whose parishioners were among those greatly moved by the famine in the 1980s and who set up a lifelong link with the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady in what would be known as The Ababa Project.


“Like the rest of the world, we were so moved by the sight of hungry, suffering people that we wanted to help,” Beatrice Gardner, one of the co-ordinators of the Ababa Project, said. “At that time, in Langholm, the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady had a nursing home and the initial contact was made there through the sisters’ Ethiopian connection. They put us in touch with the wonderful Sr Colette Ellis, an Irish sister who had spent more than 30 years in Ethiopia, teaching English and nursing to the sisters there and working with the poorest of the poor.”


From that point, the parish began to run a number of fundraisers and began to learn more and more about some of the hardships faced by the Ethiopian people from Sr Colette on her visits back to Ireland via Scotland. Fuelled with this knowledge, the St Teresa’s parishioners began to diversify their support into women’s projects, medical assistance, feeding programmes and teaching training schemes to name a few.

Dedicated to care For their part, the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Sisters have been in Ethiopia since 1910. They live prayerful lives in a community dedicated to caring for others, especially those most in need. In this atmosphere of kindness and goodness, they support each other’s professional and spiritual needs and draw strength from their shared community. Sisters pursue various career paths in medical, professional and other fields and work in various capacities.


In response to God’s call, the sisters’ mission is to come together to live the evangelical life in the spirit of Francis of Assisi. Through their Baptism and their religious consecration as Franciscans, they witness to a life of conversion, through prayer, poverty, and minority wherever they live and serve.


Their charism is rooted in Franciscan Spirituality and what is called their Supreme Rule of Mission and a life of following Christ, with the Gospel as a guide. Like St Francis, they live in an attitude of conversion to God in an apostolic community that aims to be a witness and instrument of union and communion.


Responding to the spirit of God in their lives, they live lives of integrity, making vibrant their shared evangelical life. They reach out in reverence and compassionate service to every person, especially those most in need, and work to make a significant difference in the world.

Since they arrived in Ethiopia, they have been involved in tremendous social and development activities, in addition to their core mission of pastoral services in the area where their community is located. At present, the congregation is in mission in different parts of the Archdiocese of Addis Ababa, Soddo and Eparchies, namely, in the Eparchy of Emdibir at different places with a community house and other social and development activities that they hope will improve the livelihoods of the community.


Around their community houses, in different places, they are engaged in different social and development activities in addition to the pastoral activities they carry out in collaboration with parishes and chapels.


Based on their charism to share Christ’s love to different communities, the sisters are engaged in diversified services like health, education, promotion of women, working with orphaned children, as well as pastoral formation. In Nazreth (Adama) town, the sisters are engaged in various social and development activities such as running a health centre, St Francis Health Centre, a primary school, St Clare’s Nursery and Primary School, and St Anthony’s Inclusive Nursery School.

Fruitful relationship

The relationship between the sisters and St Teresa’s has grown so much over the years that when current parish priest, Fr Jim Hayes came to the parish in 2010, he embraced the mission project so wholeheartedly that he expanded it to include a visit from a team of parishioners in 2012.


“Two of the team members, Kellie and David, are doctors, and they helped out in the clinics they visited,” Beatrice said. “David proposed to Kellie in Buccama and they have since married and have a daughter. The team travelled around the country and visited the projects in Addis Ababa, Metcha, Nazreth, Metahara, and Buccama, observing and learning, as well as getting to know the sisters and the people. We are very proud that three of our young people made the trip too, all at that time 5th and 6th year pupils—Rebecca, Nicole and John. They were a great asset to the trip and all gained a great deal from the experiences.


“We quickly realised, after visiting, that the sisters themselves had much more idea what to do with the aid we could send, so it was decided to let them use the money for what was most needed. For example, whilst they were there, a young mum died in childbirth due to the lack of a trained midwife. This was a hard lesson learned so we paid for a midwife to be trained very soon after.”


Over the years, St Teresa’s have supported many different projects in Ethiopia, but one of the most successful to date is the one that was set up at the same time that they gave their mission project its official name in 2012.


The parish patroness—and Patroness of Missionaries—is St Thérèse of Lisieux, known as the ‘Little Flower.’ The Ababa is the flower that links both communities and the parish decided to make this connection more evident in their project title. The work and the people are the same both at home and in Ethiopia—all of them working together offering all their endeavours to the Lord, like a little flower, for His glory and for the good of the poor people the sisters care for.


The TEACh (Teresa Educating A Child) programme, which was set up in the same year, invites parishioners to sponsor children from the neediest backgrounds to attend school. The cost of sponsorship is £20 per child, per month, which helps to pay for the teacher’s wages, materials, uniforms, a hygiene pack and a daily meal.


“In its first year, we sponsored 54 children,” Derek Cochrane, another of the Ababa’s Project’s co-ordinators, said. “The TEACh year runs from September and in 2022 we are sponsoring 117 children. This is the 10th year of the project and its popularity has grown steadily over the years. Fr Jim refers to it as ‘the jewel in the parish’s crown.’”


It's fitting that this example of Faith in action from the parishioners of St Teresa’s, in conjunction with the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady, has an educational focus as it has inspired Missio Scotland to make our own contribution to help support education in Ethiopia using the Ababa Project channels.


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