Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jun 7, 2015 / 05:03 am America/Denver (CNA).
Elevated to the rank of cardinal in February, Ethiopian Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew Souraphiel of Addis Ababa has brought the richness of African values to bear in the College of Cardinals.
“Africa may be poor in material things but is very rich in values, especially traditional values; family values; the treasure of the extended family; the value for life; respect of elders; the value of receiving the pilgrim, the stranger, the guest, as an angel of God,” Cardinal Souraphiel told Vatican Radio shortly before the Feb. 14 consistory at which he received the red biretta.
Africans “should not be ashamed of our roots and our values and we should not copy or exchange them for cheap ones coming from elsewhere,” he continued. “What we need is to strengthen them. We also need to know our histories.”
Cardinal Souraphiel was born in 1948 in Tchela Claka, near Harar. As a child he attended public schools and those of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, followed by schools run by the Capuchins and the De La Salle Brothers.
In 1963 he entered the minor seminary of the Congregation of the Mission, also known as the Vincentians. He began major seminary in 1968, attending institutions in Ethiopia as well as the Missionary Institute and King's College in London.
Cardinal Souraphiel was ordained a priest of the Congregation of the Mission in 1976. He ministered in southwestern Ethiopia until June 1979, when he was imprisoned for seven months by the Derg, the communist military junta that ruled the country from 1974 to 1987.
“The experience of being in solitary confinement was a terribly lonely one, as there was no one to talk with or anything to read,” the cardinal told the Vincentian Family in February. He added, however, that “I found it transformative. It led to a spiritual rebirth for me. I had nothing, literally nothing, in solitary, so I cried out to the Lord from the depths of my being. I truly felt the presence of Jesus in those dark days.”
The Derg released him from prison, but imposed exile on him; he then studied sociology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Cardinal Souraphiel returned to Ethiopia in 1983, serving as a parish priest, head of the Vincentian novitiate, chaplain for the De Las Salle brothers, and a teacher of philosophy and theology. He was also head of the local Vincentian house from 1991.
When the Prefecture Apostolic of Jimma-Bonga was established in 1994, he was appointed its first prefect.
In 1997, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Ethiopian Archeparchy of Addis Ababa, and was consecrated a bishop the following January. In 1999 he was appointed the archeparchy's archbishop, becoming head of the Ethiopian Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic Church of the Alexandrian rite.
Cardinal Souraphiel told Vatican Radio that when he was nominated as a cardinal by Pope Francis in January, it “came as a total surprise to me,” as he was informed of it by his priest secretary, who had heard of it on the radio.
Cardinal Souraphiel is chair of the Association of Members of the Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa, where his goals include adding the organization to the African Union and inviting Pope Francis to address the African Union. He has been a member of the Congregation for Oriental Churches since 2003, in 2005 helped to found the Ethiopian Catholic University of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Cardinal Souraphiel told America Magazine in February that education “is the key to create love of one’s country, to appreciate one’s own country and culture, and to be creative in all kinds of aspects of life so that the youth will be able to be create employment within the country.”
The cardinal is proud of the Catholic Church's role in Ethiopia, particularly regarding education: “Although Catholics are less than 1% of the population, we run over 400 schools and 43 health centers. We just started St. Thomas, the first Catholic University in Ethiopia. In fact, the one public university in the country until ours was started by Canadian Jesuits,” he told the Vincentian Family.
He is known for his concern over human trafficking, having said at a 2009 synod on Africa that he hoped the meeting would “study the profound causes of human trafficking, of the displaced, of abused domestic workers, of fugitives and immigrants, especially those who flee in small boats. I also hope that this Synod will take concrete positions and make concrete proposals that show the world that African lives are also sacred and that they are not cheap merchandise as sometimes they are presented by the media.”
Cardinal Souraphiel has discussed human trafficking in the context of violence against women and children, and as an effect of poverty. Calling poverty the most pressing issue in east Africa, he has urged investment in education, health, and development, as well as the pursuit of peace and stability.
He is also concerned by arms trafficking, child soldiers, refugees, and emigration, all of which are challenges for Ethiopia.
The cardinal is also known for his staunch opposition to homosexual acts, encouraging lawmakers in 2008 to outlaw them, and leading AMECEA in 2014 to condemn same-sex unions. AMECEA's August 2014 statement also stated, “We affirm institution of marriage as an indissoluble union of love between a man and a woman open to procreation and denounce any attempt to redefine this institution. Family life must be respected, promoted and protected so that it can provide men and women who can weave a social fabric of peace and harmony.”
In his February interview with America Magazine, he said that regarding the Synod on the Family, “my hopes are that the Holy Spirit shall guide the next Synod on the Family so that the Church remains faithful to the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ and to the teaching of our Holy Mother Church as presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Canon Law in the presence of our Merciful Father.”
Cardinal Souraphiel, 66, was one of 20 men made a cardinal at the Feb. 14 consistory, and one of 15 eligible to vote in a future conclave.