Father José Vieira, a Portuguese Comboni missionary, tells us about his pastoral visit to a Christian community in Massina, Ethiopia.
I used to hear about Massina when I went to celebrate mass at the outstation of Jalahu, at the bottom of a narrow valley beside the Hawata River. My mission was Haro Wato, on the Uraga Mountains.
At that time – twenty-five years ago – Jalahu was still a wild place. People went to the market and the mill at Massina, on the other side of the river. Today, Massina has a Catholic chapel in the Adola area, belonging to the parish of Qillenso.
The village is some 20 kilometres from Adola. The road is half asphalt and half gravel and winds along the left bank of the Hawata River amidst plantations of coffee, chat – a native plant, legal in Ethiopia, that contains the alkaloid cathinone, a stimulant that causes excitement, loss of appetite, and mild euphoria – ‘false banana plants’ (ensete ventricosum), fruit trees, and wheat.
The landscape is enchanting. There are many acacias, the typical trees of the African savannah. The inhabitants are sociable and as soon as they hear the car approaching, they turn around and, especially the children, cheerfully greet me and the brother who came with me.
During my staying in Haro Wato, I often bathed in the clear, cool waters of the Hawata River, near the chapel in Tuta. Here, instead, the river gets very dirty because of gold panning on its banks and in its bed. The locals extract it using shovels, picks, and bowls. The Chinese, instead, rely on powerful excavators: there are several of them in operation along the five kilometres we travel to reach Massina. The competition is unfair and sometimes turns into violent conflicts.
The last time I went to worship in Massina, a member of the Oromo militia, the local force that maintains law and order, stopped me and asked if I was going for gold. “No, I am going to pray with the people of Massina,” I replied. And he let me go on.
The chapel is located at one end of the village. It was opened by the Mexican Comboni father Pedro Pablo Hernández.
Together with a Spanish colleague, we started the mission in Haro Wato in 1995. He developed the Catholic presence in Adola and around the holy city of Guji. The chapel attracts attention because it is painted blue! My favourite colour.
Massina is the largest Catholic community outside the city. Generally, about 30 people attend Sunday Eucharist every six weeks. Most of them are women, who are always faithful to their Lord!
It is also a very autonomous community. They wanted to install a solar electric system to power the speakers and so “compete” with the Protestants. They raised the money to buy a solar panel, a battery, the current controller, the inverter – it converts the 12 volts of the battery into 220 – the stabiliser, and two speakers, one internal and the other external.
While the catechist leads morning prayer and the rosary, the priest takes care of the penitents who ask for confession.
If, for some reason, we are delayed – either because the mass in Adola has been longer than usual or because we got caught in the mud on the way – the catechist begins the Liturgy of Word. When we arrive, we calmly continue with the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
The songs are accompanied by the drum and the kerara (an Ethiopian five-string harp). The model that the community has is commercial, with steel strings, quite different from the craft models that have nylon or cotton strings.
The Prayer of the faithful is spontaneous and very participatory: some people make petitions, and others give thanks for the blessings received, thus becoming a kind of oral portrait of the lives of the people in the community. The mass ends with two or three songs in which everyone participates by singing or dancing.
At the end of the Eucharist, we are served a snack of injera – the typical bread of Ethiopia, a kind of giant pancake made from the flour of a local cereal called teff –, with potatoes, rice, and some soups made with tomatoes. The elders of the community take part in the meal. Good manners dictate that one does not eat everything because the women are also entitled to their share after the men have eaten.
On our way back, along the path, we usually meet many people, mostly women who have been to the Sunday mass or liturgy in the nearby Protestant churches. We greet each other with joy because we are all brothers and sisters, and we believe that the Risen Jesus is the Saviour of all creation.