Pope Francis has established a new Eastern Catholic church for Eritrea– the first Eastern Catholic church formally erected since the early 20th century.
According to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, there are four kinds of Eastern Catholic churches: patriarchal (led by a patriarch), major archepiscopal (led by a major archbishop), metropolitan sui iuris (led by a metropolitan archbishop), and other sui iuris churches. (The term sui iuris means “of its own right” or “of its own law.”)
According to a January 19 announcement from the Holy See Press Office, Pope Francis has separated the four Eritrean eparchies (dioceses) from the Ethiopian Catholic Church and has created a new metropolitan sui iuris church for Eritrea. The Pontiff has named Bishop Menghesteab Tesfamariam of Asmara, Eritrea’s capital, as the church’s first metropolitan archbishop. The metropolitan archbishop of Asmara will henceforth be head of the church.
Located in the Horn of Africa, Eritrea has been criticized by human rights organizations for government repression and systemic violations of religious freedom.
Relations with neighboring Ethiopia have been tense for decades. Eritrea was the less powerful partner in the short-lived Federation of Ethiopia and Eritrea (1952-62), with Ethiopia formally annexing Eritrea in 1962. The Eritrean War of Independence lasted until 1991, and Eritrea became independent in 1993. The two nations were again at war from 1998 to 2000.
Eritrea, a, nation of 6.5 million, has 155,000 Catholics, all of them in Eastern-rite jurisdictions. The Eritrean Orthodox Church, an Oriental Orthodox church that separated from the Coptic Orthodox Church (with Coptic consent) in 1998, has 1.5 million members. The majority of Eritreans are Muslims.