Taste of Africa in the midst of the Vatican

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The Holy See has diplomatic relations with 183 sovereign states, yet only one Pontifical College resides inside the Vatican Gardens, that of Ethiopia and Eritrea. 

In the beginning, in the 1500s, it was used as a home for travelers and monks coming from Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Rector, Ethiopian College
“The presence of the Ethiopian monks and pilgrims goes back to the 15th century, when Pope Sixtus IV, gave the small church of St. Stephen, and the house just behind the Basilica of St. Peter. Then that house has been changed into a seminary by Benedict XV in 1919.”

The first class of seminarians began that year, in 1919, with eight students, two from Ethiopia and six from Eritrea. In 1929, the entire college changed location from the bottom of the Vatican Gardens to further inside, in a bigger house. 

Since then, nearly 300 students have passed through the college. There are currently 20 students residing “on campus,” furthering their studies. 

Thomas Weldeslassie is a current student from Ethiopia. He is finishing his doctorate in Philosophy, after teaching in his country for around 20 years. 

Student, Ethopian College
“We have a long history in the Vatican. It's a privilege to be here as a continuation of our forefathers, who were coming to this place as pilgrims, and then turned it into a college. So our presence here? Well, it has a spiritual and cultural advantage, I think.”

Since the first seminarians came to the college, the rector and vice rector have always been Capuchin monks. This tradition still lives on today with the rector coming from Eritrea and vice rector from Ethiopia. 

Vice Rector, Ethiopian College
So after now, we are keeping that tradition. We are helping our diocese and many students this year. It's a great joy, you know? To serve this Church, and our people.

Rector, Ethiopian College
I'm really very happy. I can't understand the privilege, the love that the Holy See, the popes have continued, that we Ethiopians and friends reside here in the heart of the Church, in the middle of the Vatican gardens.

But the College has one big difference from many other buildings inside the Vatican Gardens: they don't follow the Latin rite. This college specifically focuses on diocesan priests following the Oriental rite. 

Vicariate Apostolic of Soddo
We do have both rites in Ethiopia. When I say both that is an Ethiopian rite or Ge'ez rite, which we are sharing with the Eritrean Church also, the Catholic Church; as well as the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church belongs to the Oriental rite, liturgically, culturally, traditionally.

The first evangelization in the country began in the north of Ethiopia and they kept their liturgical roots. Meanwhile, in the south, missionaries evangelized with the Latin rite, since they came from European countries where this rite was more common.  

The priests in Ethiopia need to know both rites, depending where they are sent throughout their country.

Vicariate Apostolic of Soddo
So I personally belong to the Ethiopian rite, but though I am serving now in the latin vicariate. So I'm not to mix them up. How to use properly where I am working accordingly, now I am using the Latin rites.

Regardless of rites, the students studying here, the rectors and former students all agree this school offers a special sense of home, for both countries: Eritrea and Ethiopia. It's a little taste of Africa caught in the midst of the Vatican Gardens. 

Melissa Butz

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