WCC Head Visits Orthodox Christians, Evangelicals in Eritrea

( [email protected] ) May 17, 2007 03:02 PM EDT

Days after hundreds of Christians from across the world gathered to pray for Eritrea, the head of a global ecumenical body made his way into the country to visit with top religious leaders as well as government officials.

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, arrived in the east African nation on Wednesday for a four-day visit that includes meeting with WCC member churches. Kobia plans to meet with leaders of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church as well as the leadership of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus – which has its headquarters in neighboring Ethiopia but is also present in Eritrea.

The ecumenical leader also plans to meet with representatives of other Christian churches, faith communities and top government officials.

Kobia’s visit follows the WCC executive committee’s statement issued in February that highlighted the “deteriorating human rights situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea” and called the Horn of Africa “the most troubled region of the continent.” The WCC’s governing body also acknowledged the importance of religious communities in Ethiopia, Eritrea and “the wider ecumenical fellowship” in the reconciliation process of the region during their February meeting.

Over the next couple of days, Kobia will discuss with leaders the situation of violence in the Horn of Africa and how churches and governments can work together to bring about lasting peace.

According to the WCC, one of the goals of the visit is to identify how the Council can contribute to the search for peace and reconciliation in the region.

Last weekend, in Nairobi, Kenya, Eritrean Christians living outside of Eritrea were joined by other Christians from around the world for the first National Day of Prayer for Eritrea to pray for religious freedom in the country.

The government of Eritrea is internationally known to crack down on mainly non-Orthodox Christians and other religious groups it deems subversive to its power. There are an estimated 2,000 Christians currently detained without charges, trial and end date to their imprisonment in Eritrea.

Among those detained is the ordained Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, who was forced out of office in January 2006 and has since been held under house arrest. Antonios’ arrest and removal from office is said to be due to his criticism of the government’s religious freedom violations and his defense of evangelical churches.

The U.S. State Department has blacklisted Eritrea as a “country of particular concern” for its “egregious” religious freedom violations for three straight years and was recommended by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to be e-designated as a CPC again this year.

Kobia will conclude his Eritrea visit on May 19.