post Jesuits in Ethiopia

January 22nd, 2008

Filed under: History Corner — Lissan Magazine @ 21:20

The Jesuits in 16/17th-Century Ethiopia

The Christian kingdom that controlled the Ethiopian high plateau suffered a series of very deep political, economic, military and religious crises in the period between the late 15th century and the expulsion of the Jesuit missionaries in 1633. The Somali and Afari armies led by Ahmad ibn Ibrahim, called the Gragñ (or “left-handed”) seriously threatened the very existence of the Christian state from 1529 to 1543, when they were finally defeated by the Abyssinians with the help of a small Portuguese expeditionary force sent from Goa, India. Subsequently, parties of Borana and Barentuma Oromo pastoralists began raiding deeper and deeper into Abyssinian territory and, by the end of the 16th century, many had settled in Gojam and Shoa and had become the main adversaries of royal power in Abyssinia.

The Ethiopian king meets the Catholic patriarch Afonso Mendes.

The Portuguese military collaboration with the Christian Ethiopians served their own strategic interests in their regional rivalry with the Ottoman Turks for control of the trade routes in the Red Sea and the north-western sector of the Indian Ocean. But the Portuguese rulers, together with the Pope in Rome and the head of the Company of Jesus, had the additional intention of establishing a mission in Ethiopia to encourage the population to switch from their Orthodox faith to Catholicism – an intention that made sense in the light of the Counter-Reformation concerns in Southern Europe.

A Jesuit mission led by Father Andrés de Oviedo first entered the country in 1557, only to find that the conversion project was too utopian. They began visiting the royal court, where they participated in a number of theological discussions with the Orthodox clergy. But they were eventually persecuted and expelled to Tigray where, in May Gwagwa, they preached and gave support to the Portuguese community that had stayed in Ethiopia in the wake of the Gragñ wars. As the years passed and the Portuguese either dwindled in numbers or converted to Orthodoxy, the mission became almost extinct.

By the end of the century, when Philip II, the Emperor of Spain, inherited the Portuguese royal crown, he decided to revive the Jesuit mission in Ethiopia. A new priest, Father Pedro Páez , was sent from Goa. Once in Ethiopia, he forced his way into the royal court. Other priests joined him and together they gradually gained the favour of the new Ethiopian King Susneyos and, very importantly, converted his brother the Ras Sela Krestos to Catholicism.

In 1621, Susneyos publicly announced his adherence to the Latin faith, a strategy to reinforce his political power and his independence from the influential Orthodox clergy. A consequence of the public conversion of the king was the arrival of a growing number of Jesuit priests intent on rapidly introducing Catholic reforms into Ethiopia. In 1626, the Catholic Patriarch Afonso Mendes imposed a number of changes on the ancestral religious practices of the Ethiopians. Social unrest and civil war followed and Susneyos was forced to resign. His son Fasiladas, who succeeded him, rejected Catholicism upon his accession to the throne and, in 1633, expelled or killed all Jesuit missionaries.



  1. Greetings from Mexico to all Jesuits in Ethiopia specially to Bishop Rodrigo Mejia, S. J. for his birthday on septembre 5. Rodrigo: Honguera sana Baba Askofu, na Heri ya siku yako ya kusaliwa. Rodrigo, siku moja ningependa kupiga simu na wewe.
    Kwaheri na Mungu awabariki.
    Jorge Ramirez Lozano
    an ex Jesuit from Honduras who also was in Ethiopia and in Kishe in the region of Jimma Bonga.

    Comment by Jorge Ramirez Lozano — 4. September 2010 @ 17:40

  2. I am a Catholic. I know something about Jesuits in ETHIOPIA. I grew in a the seminary of salesians of DON bosco. I left Don Bosco and I joined Mekelle University for study and I did my BA degree in Management. now I would like to join this congregation to be a priest. can you please guide on how I can apply and to which address?
    Haileselassie Tensae

    Comment by Haileselassie Tensae — 1. May 2013 @ 08:42

  3. i am Catholic and also a candidate of Jesuit missionaries. thanks to Abba Groum Tesfaye, S.J. i am studying for my BA in Addis Ababa University in Sociology. i am proud to be a Jesuit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Comment by senay mesfin — 14. August 2013 @ 08:39

  4. Hello, Does anyone know of the whereabouts of Shum Dahen? He was in residence at the Jesuit community in the 1990’s. I am still grateful for the hospitality he accorded me when i arrived and found myself so lost in a wet Addis Ababa one August. Thanks.

    Comment by Aloysius Beebwa — 17. October 2015 @ 13:28

  5. Re: Shum Dahen

    Forgot to send my contact:

    Aloysius Beebwa

    Comment by Aloysius Beebwa — 17. October 2015 @ 13:30

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