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Eritrean Catholic Church

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Title: Eritrean Catholic Church  
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Subject: Religion in Eritrea, Eastern Catholic churches, Eritrean Catholic Church, Christianity in Eritrea, Louis Thomassin
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Eritrean Catholic Church

The Eritrean Catholic Church is an autonomous Particular Church, which is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, in full communion with the Pope in Rome. Headquartered in Asmara, Eritrea in the Horn of Africa, this church uses the Alexandrine Rite.


Pre-20th century

From the time of the Crusades, the Catholic faith in the entire Middle East was supervised by bishops of the Roman Catholic Church based in Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. During the 19th century, the Holy See gradually established more local Apostolic Vicariates, focusing more on individual populations.

In 1890, Eritrea was annexed by Italy and made a colony of the Kingdom of Italy, which promoted the Catholic faith among the local population. In 1894, a Prefecture Apostolic was established for Eritrea, under the authority of the Apostolic Vicariate of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Missionary work in the region was carried out primarily by Capuchin friars from Italy. The majority of the faithful had previously been members of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, and kept the rites of that Church in the ancient liturgical language of Ge'ez.[1]

20th century

Colonial era

Eritrea was raised by the Holy See to the status of Apostolic Vicariate in 1911. In its place, however, a Latin-rite Ordinariate of Eritrea was established on 4 July 1930, to which all Catholics were made subject, regardless of the rite they used.[2] Bishop Kidanè-Maryam Cassà was appointed as the first Ordinary, with the title Vicar Apostolic.[3] In the early 1940s, Catholicism was the religion of nearly 28% of people in the colony of Italian Eritrea.[4]

Cassà was succeeded in 1951 by Bishop Ghebre Jesus Jacob. In October of that same year, the Ordinariate was abolished by Rome and in its place was created the new Apostolic Exarchate of Asmara, under the Ethiopian Catholic Church. The Catheral of St. Joseph in Asmara was made the seat of the new exarchate. In 1959, a separate Apostolic Vicarate was established for those residents who were Roman Catholics, mostly Italian expatriates who had stayed after the transfer of Eritrea by Italy to the Ethiopian Empire in 1947. The exarchate was raised to the rank of an eparchy as of 20 February 1961.[2]


The same year as the establishment of the Eparchy of Asmara, conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia broke out, as Ethiopia tried to enforce its control of the region. This resulted in the 30-year long Eritrean War of Independence. A referendum was held in 1993 which resulted in the establishment of Eritrea as an independent nation.

The ecclesiastical consequence of this was that, after Eritrea achieved independence in May 1993, Pope John Paul II created two additional eparchies, with seats in Keren and Barentu. The Apostolic Vicariate for Roman Catholics was abolished and they were placed under the jurisdiction of the local Eritrean bishops.[2] Pope Benedict XVI created a fourth eparchy based in Segeneiti on 24 February 2012, with territory taken from the Archeparchy of Asmara.[5]

Currently there are approximately 150,000 members of the Church. They account for approximately 5% of the population.


There are four territorial jurisdictions in the country, known as eparchies.[6]

  • The most important (and the original since 1930) is the Eparchy of Asmara.[7] Cathedral: St. Joseph.
  • The Eparchy of Keren is the most important as a percentage of the total Eritrean population (nearly 12%).[8] Cathedral: St. Michael.
  • The Eparchy of Barentu has been created in 1995 and covers the northwest of the country.[9]
  • The Eparchy of Segeneiti has been created in 2012 and covers the south of the country.[10] Cathedral: St. Michael.

Latin rite

The three eparchies of Eritrea before 2012. In red the former Asmara eparchy, now divided between the Asmara and Segeneiti eparchies

In 1995, when two new eparchies, Barentu and Keren, were established in Eritrea, the Latin Church apostolic vicariate was abolished. Eritrea thus became the only country where all Catholics, whatever their personal liturgical rite, belong to an Eastern Catholic jurisdiction. The nation still has Roman Catholics, most of whom are Italian Eritreans. However, after the abolishing of the vicariate, the spiritual care of the Latin-Rite Catholics is entrusted in the care of the Eastern-Rite Eritrean Catholic Church. When Eritrea was an Italian colony, all the Italians (colonists and military troops) professed the Latin rite: in 1940 they were 11% of the total population. As of 2010 there were 900 Italian Eritreans, mostly elderly.


  1. ^ Den Katolske Kirke "Chronology of Catholic Dioceses:Eritrea"
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ Catholic Hierarchy
  4. ^ Bandini, Franco. Gli italiani in Africa, storia delle guerre coloniali 1882-1943 Chapter: Eritrea
  5. ^ Catholic Hierarchy
  6. ^ Ethiopian/Eritrean Catholic Church
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ [2]
  9. ^ [3]
  10. ^ [4]

See also

External links

  • Eparchy of Keren
  • Asmara Cathedral
  • Recent Eritrean Bishops' events
  • Eastern Catholic Churchs: Statistics 2008
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