Visit the new AsenaTv Website

Unfiltered Notes: Are we losing the deeper message of Eritrea’s courageous Catholic Bishops?

Unfiltered Notes: Are we losing the deeper message of Eritrea’s courageous Catholic Bishops? By Tewelde Stephanos, June 14, 2014                    Email:   Many have commented on the exemplary moral leadership of the four Catholic Bishops articulated in the

Unfiltered Notes: Are we losing the deeper message of Eritrea’s courageous Catholic Bishops?

By Tewelde Stephanos, June 14, 2014                    Email:


Many have commented on the exemplary moral leadership of the four Catholic Bishops articulated in the now famous document titled “Where is Your Brother?” 1,2.  Such courageous moral stand is truly uplifting anytime but especially so at this moment of Eritrea’s grim reality.


But I worry if we are losing the deeper lesson of the good Bishops already. Some of us are concluding as if the message only applies to the regime and its supporters. Yes, the lawless regime makes Italy’s apartheid era look good by comparison. The wanton plundering of Eritrea’s material and humanresources and Isaias saying “no one gave me a contract” to create the oppressive and corrupt regime leaves no doubt he is the worst enemy the country has.


That is not the whole story, however. Could a one-man empire last this long if we had heeded the Bishops’ deeper lesson? Did we honestly stick with the spirit of their question – “where is my brother”? What was our response when the disabled veterans were mercilessly mowed down or when so many people were herded to prison, some never to be heard from again? Except for very few brave souls, like our Catholic Bishops, we have all failed to do the right thing and that is why the regime has thrived this long.


Let’s start with the most contentious. In 1991, Eritrea’s tegadelti were given boundless respect and admiration. Then tegadalai Bitwoded Abreha was jailed without due process of the law and thetegadelti did nothing to help his mother who, as the word of mouth reporting goes, was knocking on all doors to gain her son’s freedom. Because the tegadelti stopped asking “where is my brother” things only got worse from there. Then came the jailing of Muslim teachers in Keren, the massacre of the disabled veterans in Mai Habar; followed by one horrendous crime after another. And what did thetegadelti do? Nothing. Even the top leaders who ignored the pleas of Bitwoded’s mother have disappeared without a trace since. And because they did nothing, even tegadelti’s children are fleeing Eritrea confirming what they (the tegadelti) let happen has made Eritrea unfit for their own children. While all this mess is unfolding, Eritrean society wrongly took the back seat assuming the tegadeltiare there to safeguard freedom only to find out freedom cannot survive unless it is guarded by all. As the tegadelti abandoned the spirit of freedom and justice they supposedly fought for, ordinary citizens (derisively referred to as gebar by tegadelti) also willingly accepted a second class citizenship role. And it all went downhill from there.


How about diaspora Eritreans and Eritrea’s so-called educated class who enjoy full personal freedoms provided by our host countries? Did we wish the same freedoms for our brothers and sisters inside Eritrea or try to speak truth to power? Not even close. The vast majority of us kept quiet (even as the regime closed the only University in the country), and the voices of few brave ones were continuously drowned out in favor of a corrupt regime that is still in power. The irony of ironies: we even mis-used the freedom of expression allowed in our host countries to demonstrate in favor of a regime that kills people demanding those very rights.


How about religious leadership? Except for the consistent and united moral leadership of the Catholic Bishops – both now and in 2001, there is not much to speak of here either. The Protestant Church has been extremely quiet; and one dares say complacent The Orthodox Church is severely divided and cleverly manipulated by the atheist regime. It can’t even rally in a united way to free the ailing Patriarch who was demoted by the regime and replaced by immoral “leaders” who continue to turn a blind eye as the regime brutalizes their brothers. The role of the Mosque is not that better. Forgetting they are our brothers and sisters, we have been dormant or complacent as the regime viciously attacked members of the smaller faith groups.


Predictably, the regime and its supporters have started playing the same old song that the Catholic Bishops were funded by Eritrea’s enemies. Of course it is a bankrupt argument because Eritrea’s enemies did not massacre the disabled veterans, closed the only University, nor convert Eritrea into a despotic state. We did. But let’s assume for a moment that an enemy did fund the Bishops to write the deep, thoughtful and caring document. A document that is full of practical advice on how to solve our problems, a document that awakens the soul to do the right thing, a document that arouses sympathy for a mistreated brother or sister. A document that appeals to our sensibilities to never do what we did to Bitwoded’s mother ever again. If there are enemies like that who help you accomplish such noble causes, I, for one, want as many of those enemies as I can find. I am sure many also feel the same way.


But let’s go back to the bigger picture. Segment it anyway we want – by gender, by age group, by religion etc., our collective behavior has not been that good. After all, the hated regime is still there doing what it does best – promoting backwardness, poverty, ignorance and destruction.

Collectively, we are all equally bad for letting things get this ugly. No group can claim virtue over any other. But now is our opportunity to right this wrong, to rise from the ashes, to heed the Catholic Bishops’ message to never stop asking “where is my brother?” again. Because as the saying goes, if I don’t stand up when they take away my brother, there won’t be anyone left when they come for me. This regime will surely go.  And good riddance! what a moment that will be. What we will allow to replace it, is the real test awaiting us. Are we now getting the deeper lesson outlined by the good Bishops? Are we going to allow another mother’s heart to be broken like what let happen to Bitwoded’s mother and the countless mothers like her?


I feel nothing but gratitude for the stand the Catholic Bishops took. And for that, I say, I am a Catholic today.,  June 6, 2014

Review overview
  • TwoWayStreet June 16, 2014

    Tewelde Stifanos. The following summarizes your article, I am sure you have come across it before. This is my second time to post it on this website.

    A poem written by a German, Martin Niemoller, regarding the German cowardice during the Hitler era,

    First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

    So if we don’t speak out when action is taken on others, it will soon come to us, then nobody will be there to speak for us.

    • rezen June 17, 2014

      Say it thousand times “second time” and it won’t be enough. You quoted a German Poet about the German people who are known to be excessively emotional and can be arrogant with their position — detrimental to their benefit. Are Eritreans any different than that bizarre psychological phenomenon?

      I have already posted my admiration for the daring act of Tewelde Stifanos — which, by the way, is much, much more productive than the Committee EFND in which he is a founding member.