EOC Patriarch’s new conference hall and Senegal’s Basilica of Our Lady of Peace: two sides of a coin

24 Apr


It can safely be assumed that several thousands of Ethiopians must have heard about the decision by Patriarch Abune Paulos of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) to build a modern mega conference hall, which would cost the Church ETB 206 million ($12 million).

When I first read this story in the April 16, 2012 issue of Capital, as a citizen fully conversant with the country’s problems in response to which prioritization has become more vital than ever before, I felt a terrible sense of helplessness.

Initially, I was kind of surprised that the Church should decide to spend this much money at this time on a conference hall, when there are now a number of halls in Addis Abeba. All that we hear and read from afar is the increasing difficulties for citizens to make ends meet. The talk all over the country has for a while been about the killer cost of living and the atrociously high food prices that have made food inaccessible to millions of citizens.

I could not fathom how and why the Church is not keeping with actions that gets it closer to the people, demonstrably with its prayers, sentiments and generosities at this very time, especially when hunger continues to stock millions of people and more trouble is on the way with the rains not coming in time, again for the nth time.

Church and lay people from across the oceans travel to our country to help with whatever they could with help from good Samaritans. Where would this put the EOC under Patriarch Abune Paulos?

I heard my thoughts trying to spare me of the frustrations over what I considered the Church’s misguided action, by comforting me that Ethiopia would be richer by a conference hall. I realized immediately that it was merely a defense mechanism in the likes of the fox in Aesop’s fables that could not reach the grapes it salivated for so much it had to whisper to itself, ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes’.

Admittedly, $12 million is not a great deal of money, since it cannot rehabilitate all those hungry people. But what would have looked better, sounded well if the Church were attending the needs of the people. That would have gone further in these difficult times. Isn’t Ethiopia a country, where communities come out in tandem with the leadership of the Church to pray for the rains to come?
(Courtesy of Capital)
Anyways, the Patriarch’s Conference Hall (seen above, Courtesy of Capital) is to be constructed by the winning designer firm Ultimate Plan Plc., managed and owned by Begziabher Alebel, jointly with Aedas, a British company. Capital also reported that the $12 million dollars covers the costs of structural works, technical equipment for building services, such as power facilities, the finishing works and landscaping, access roads and footpaths.

However, as an ultra modern conference hall, where feigning sustainable resource utilization has become the vogue these days—so long as it does not affect or alter existing consumption behavior—tacked to the design is uses of photovoltaic technology, whose costs would be additional, as are the undetermined expenses for its interior furnishings.

For a number of reasons, when I read this story what came to mind was what was behind the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Senegal.

The big point going for the EOC Conference Hall, however, is its seating capacity for 13,000 persons, against the expensive Basilica that seats only 7,000, air-conditioned though.

Of course, the major similarity between the two is both are built (work on the Patriarch’ to start soon) in times of economic and political difficulties.

In Senegal, popular tremors began to be felt at the tail end of the 1970s and continued through the 1980s due to the sharp downturn in international market prices of coffee and cocoa, the country’s principal exports.

Increasingly, Mr. Houphouët-Boigny’s regime was under attack from citizens group. Leaflets were distributed everywhere and, for a more sedate country, the sense of Senegalese disaffection reaching immense proportions.

The clever president tried to fight back with far-reaching political reforms, genuine devolution of power and greater accommodation. Although during this time he was accused of destabilizing his weaker neighbors, he never engaged in persecuting the people of Senegal, especially journalists.

The Basilica, which was constructed between 1985-1989, was part of his design to contain the internal turmoil, as he built allies internally and internationally. The aging Houphouët-Boigny finally realized that he must come to terms with the aspirations of his people and by early 1990s he yielded to popular pressure that resulted in Senegal becoming a pluralistic democracy. Today, it is Africa’s bright star as far as democracy is concerned, despite the glitches preceding the last national election that was amicably solved.

In Ethiopia, the Patriarch’s Conference Hall comes at a difficult time for the country. Today, it is not only the state that finds itself mired in troubles with restive citizens both because of political and economic problems.

Our country is at a crossroad now. There are too many unhappy and angry voices—the Christian and Moslem communities, teachers, farmers, disenchanted and disenfranchised youth, some ready to torch themselves in protest, with parents being constantly preoccupied with the comings and goings of their children faced with a power that is ready to sacrifice them to prolong the life of this government, etc.

The EOC has been in serious difficulties internally, with a pushy Synod, a murmuring clergy as well as the Church’s lay followers openly criticizing the Patriarch. They accuse him of more inclined to the flesh than the spirit, especially after he erected for himself two-meter bronze statue in 2010.

The division within the Church has worsened, after the EOC Synod disapproved of the statue as out of Church tradition and unbecoming of a living leader of the Church. It swiftly recommended its dismantling, to which the Patriarch fumingly rallied his supporters, vowing no one dare “touch my statue.”

His supporters defended its standing, as tribute to the pontiff’s life of dedication to God and the Church. The presumed beauty of the argument of the Patriarch’s supporters could not meet the eyes of his opponents, who refuse to bury the hatchet.

The statue is an image certainly someone with a church regalia, a person standing within the premises of the Bole Medhani Alem Church, holding cross in the right hand and cane in the other. Its standing has become problematic even to some of the faithful, especially in comparison with the only statue of a patriarch’s in the country — Abune Petros’s — whose legitimacy has been wholly accepted by the Ethiopian people. After all, the statue of Abune Petros was erected posthumously, in recognition of his heroic role in defending the country’s independence and sovereignty against colonial occupation by Fascist Italy that executed him in 1936.

Not surprisingly, therefore, for the first time in its history, the EOC has been divided in the past two decades more seriously, with a Synod in exile a Patriarch of its own abroad, resident abroad with huge parishes across countries and oceans. Of course, Patriarch Abune Paulos is safer until it lasts with his closeness to the regime, instead of the over close to 38 – 40 million adherents of the Ethiopian Church–not even the smaller constituency of a Synod.

The Patriarch rejected the recommendation of the Synod to remove his statue. Of course, he is first a human being and chose his statue to stand because of pride. Because of his choice, his statue has become symbol of the division between the faithful throughout the country on one side and the church leadership and the prevailing politics on the other.

Unlike the Basilica, it is a relief that the Patriarch’s Conference Hall would not be built from marble, which cost Senegal by some estimates $300 million, a gift by a beleaguered President Felix Houphouët-Boigny to Pope Paul II.

So far, it is also a relief that there is no indication by the Patriarch what he would name the Patriarch’s Conference Hall or who it would be dedicated for!

Nevertheless, all said and done, the Church needs to be the first to turn to God to save Ethiopia from all the problems before it. For the good of the country, the Churn needs to bring God into the midst of a totally divided society, fulfill its traditional role of caring for the sick, comforting the bereaved and helping the needy.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church as well as Islam are the spiritual guides of the nation and, therefore, the Churn would be better off turning from the earthly and devotion to the flesh to honoring the glory of God and betterment of society!

Read also:

Abune Paulos


*Edited version.

One Response to “EOC Patriarch’s new conference hall and Senegal’s Basilica of Our Lady of Peace: two sides of a coin”

  1. Teodros Yemane-Brehan April 26, 2012 at 16:33 #

    Yamoussoukro is in Ivory Coast and President Felix Houphouët-Boigny was Presdient of Ivory Coast until his death in December 1993. “Houphouët-Boigny moved the country’s capital from Abidjan to his hometown of Yamoussoukro and built the world’s largest church there, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, at a cost of US$300 million. At the time of his death, he was the longest-serving leader in Africa’s history and the third longest-serving leader in the world, after Fidel Castro of Cuba and Kim Il-sung of North Korea. ” Please make corrections


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