Eparchy of Adigrat
Blessed Abba Gebremichael: A Saintly Disciple
Blessed Abba Gebremichael:
a saintly disciple
Gebremichael was born in 1788 at Dibo, Gojam, not far from the monastery of Mertule Mariam. In 1807 he became a novice at that same monastery. At the age of 25 he had completed his studies and had the equivalent of a "Doctorate in Ecclesiastical Sciences". Instead of pursuing a promising career, he made his solemn profession as a monk. Gebremichael had a thirst for knowledge, but not just for the sake of becoming victorious in theological controversies.
He first met Mgr. de Jacobis in 1841 when they were both members of the delegation looking for a new metropolitan in Cairo. From there he visited Rome and Jerusalem. At about this time Gebremichael's search for knowledge really became a search for truth. As a result of that search he repeatedly asked Mgr. de Jacobis to become a Catholic, but it was only in February 1844 that he was accepted.
For a short time Gebremichael taught in Alitena before heading for Gonder in September 1849. Near Adwa, together with his companions Gebremichael was arrested and put in chains. They were only released after sixty-six days and then they returned to Alitena. It was there that Mgr. de Jacobis on 1st January 1851 secretly ordained his first priest, Abba Gebremichael.
Later that year Abba Gebremichael once again headed for Gonder. In that city on 15th July 1854 the new king, as was customary, proclaimed his profession of faith. Since this affirmed that Christ's humanity had been "cut off" once he had become united to the divinity, Abba Gebremichael refused to accept it. For their refusal the elderly priest and his companions were cruelly whipped and then their feet were chained to the stocks. After suffering such terrible torture for five months and twenty days, Abba Gebremichael was brought before the judges. Again he refused to accept that profession of faith and so he was condemned to have his head cut off. At the last moment the execution was changed by orders of the king and, instead, the soldiers were ordered to give him one hundred and fifty lashes of the whip.
Two days later Abba Gebremichael was obliged to trudge behind the army as it went on a military expedition. During the course of the march the English consul, Plowden, arrived at their camp at the end of May 1855. Once again Abba Gebremichael was brought before the tribunal composed of various dignitaries, including the English consul. For having persisted in his refusal to accept that form of faith he was condemned to be shot. Only at the last moment, as he stood facing the firing squad, he was released thanks to the intervention of Plowden. Although Abba Gebremichael's life had been spared, he was condemned to follow the army bound in chains.
For the next three months he continued to shuffle along in his chains. Then, as the evening shadows lengthened on the feast of St. George, the martyr, 29th August 1855, Abba Gebremichael rested against a stone under the shade of a big cedar tree. Prophetically, he calmly declared that he would die that evening and indicated the place where he was to be buried. Then, quite peacefully he died while still bound by his chains.
On 31st October 1926 Pope Pius XI beatified Abba Gebremichael as a martyr. Now, as we approach the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of his death as a martyr, it would be most fitting that he should be canonized. Let that be our prayer!
For many years the diocesan priests of the present Eparchy of Adigrat have practised a deep devotion to the martyr, Blessed Gebremichael. Some 79 years ago, on 12th Tiqimt, 1918 E.C. (November 6, 1925 G.C.), 8 diocesan priests of the Eparchy of Adigrat, since they saw in the person of Blessed Gebremichael an exemplar and model, agreed to start a spiritual association of priests under his patronage and named it: "Mahber Betsue Gebremichael". They drew up rules and regulation so that the association would help them spiritually for mutual love and fraternal support in their apostolate during their lives, and assurance of continued prayers and Masses after their death from this life. The membership grew from time to time as the Eparchy grew in faith and priestly vocation. Today the "Blessed Gebremichael Association of Priests of Adigrat Eparchy" has 59 living members (priests and Bishops), who are working in the apostolate within the Eparchy and in other Dioceses of Ethiopia. Among its 30 deceased members are Abune Hailemariam Kahsay, Abune Sebhat-Leab Worku, Abune Asrate-mariam Yemiru, Abune Yohannes Woldeghiorgis. Similar "Mahbers" in the name of Blessed Gebremichael exist also in other Dioceses in Ethiopia and Eritrea.