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Historical Perspectives

Brief Summary of the past

The Eighteenth Century

During the 18th century, the Holy See made 8 more attempts to send priests to Ethiopia. In addition to the involvement of the Jesuits, there were two groups of Franciscans belonging to the Custody of Egypt or the Custody of the Holy Land.

Once the Propagation had pronounced in 1704 on the validity of Ethiopian ordinations, ten Friars expressed their willingness to go to Ethiopia. Fr. Giuseppe de Gerusalemme, a Maronite, carried a letter from Pope Clement XI (1700 - 1721) to Emperor Iyasu I (1682 - 1706) appealing for reunion, which was obsolete following the assassination of the emperor by one of his sons in 1706. Following the death of Fr. Giuseppe at Sennar in 1709, Fr. Liberato was appointed Prefect to establish contact with Ethiopian Christianity. This time, with Frs. Michael Pius and Samuel Marzorati, he arrived at Gondar in July 1712. In a letter that Fr. Liberato wrote to the Propagation of the Faith the following year, he explained that scruples of the nature of the "wine" had prevented them from saying Mass for nine months. Unfortunately, he did not know the Propagation of the Faith's decree of 1711 which stated that "It is permitted (to use for Mass) liquid extracted from raisins of dried grapes provided that by reason of its colour, odour and taste it is recognized as true wine."

The Friars refrained from proselytising, but that did not prevent more than 112 people becoming their disciples. Even Emperor Justus (1711 - 1716) frequently attended their celebration of Mass. In the face of mounting hostility, the Emperor sent the Friars to Welkayit in the west of Tigray for their own safety. Emperor Justus' successor, David III (1716 - 1721) brought the Friars back to Gondar, where they were charged with heresy. When condemned to death on 2nd March 1716 the Friars said: "We hold and confess that in Jesus Christ there are two natures and this we will confess to the last drop of our blood." After hearing the news of the Friars' martyrdom, the Propagation of the Faith, on 28th September 1717, suppressed any further attempts to enter Ethiopia. But ten years later Pope Benedict XIII reversed that decision.

Subsequent attempts to enter Ethiopia resembled more of a military escapade than apostolic endeavours, since they included the intention of liberating Massawa from the Turks. In February 1735 the Propagation of the Faith categorically stated that it would neither authorize nor take part in any such undertakings. After a decade of inertia, an invitation had been received from Emperor Iyasu II (1730 - 1755). Frs. Remedius Prutcky and Martinus Lang, both from Bohemia, together with Fr. Antonio da Aleppo, a Greek Maronite, left Egypt for Ethiopia in September 1751. Although Fr. Remedius only spent seven months in Gondar, he duly gave a full report to the Propagation of the Faith on his return to Rome in July 1754. As a result of his report the idea developed that if a delegation included an Ethiopian Catholic bishop the prospects of reuniting Christendom would be enhanced.

The Eighteenth Century

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