Many of you were very moved by Fr. Hartley’s talk and we’ve received questions asking for more information and how one might give directly to his mission. Here is an excerpt from a letter written by Fr. Hartley to his supporters in 2018 and a link to the Tamara Project report on our website. Enjoy!
+ Fr. Hartley’s Letter from the Desert
“Blessed are you when they persecute you… Whoever loses his life for my sake and for the Gospel will find it… Like a thief in the night…”
It was on August 4 th of this year 2018… …and around 9:30 in the morning… One more day like any other in the life of the mission… … and yet, it would be a day that will be remembered forever in the mission as the day of infamy in the collective memory of this battered people of Ethiopia.
The day had dawned sunny and blazing hot – as always – and even at that early hour the sun pressed in upon the colored kaleidoscope of endless sheets of zinc that formed the clumsy shacks that were built without any semblance of order, in the narrow streets of Gode.
I drove to the small airport of our town in the company of a good Spanish priest friend, who was heading back after having shared several days of mission life with us.
I watched him walk toward the twin engine Ethiopian Airlines plane from our ramshackle airport terminal – more like a kiosk than a terminal – then I turned the truck around again and returned to the mission.
It was another day in the life of the mission, with its interweaving of small tasks, seemingly inconsequential, like handfuls of small mustard seeds, which – thrown tenaciously toward the wind, in stubborn hope – promised a fruitful evangelical harvest for this suffering Somali people.
I was barely at the mission 45 minutes, when my phone rang… at first, I could not understand what the girl was telling me between the crying and desperate screams. Finally, I deciphered what she said: “Father, they are going to kill us; they are stoning Christians and burning the houses of Christians!!!
Come and get us; come and get us!!!” And without thinking twice, I went to the city to search for the two women, workers in our “Catholic charities.” I didn’t know what we were going to find on the road, the dangers we would run into, what could happen to us…
When we arrived at their small office, they were both waiting for us at the door with their backpacks on their shoulders. They boarded the van in one swift leap, and we returned to the mission at full speed. There, the other volunteers were in the chapel praying the Holy Rosary, pleading for our safety and for peace.
Terrified, we watched the columns of smoke rising into the sky from different points in the city, especially the parcel where the Orthodox church was.
Meanwhile, the phone did not stop ringing, informing us that these same events were happening in all the other cities of the Somali region of Ethiopia, and with special virulence in Jijiga, the capital of our region.
At mid-afternoon, the Bishop called to tell me all about what had happened to them in Jijiga, as they blessed a new chapel, built by the parish at enormous sacrifice.
At nightfall, and due to multiple requests for help which came from the regional director of the hospital in Gode, we decided to load a large quantity of medicines in the trucks and went to the hospital to work with doctors and nurses to care for the injured and administer first aid.
Upon returning to the mission, we found that many Christians – Catholics and Orthodox – had arrived at our house on their own, asking for shelter. Some of us converted our school classrooms into bedrooms – with an incessant racking up of chairs and desks that went out, as beds, mattresses, pillows and sheets went in – transforming them into makeshift shelters for these poor people. Others were busy in the kitchen, preparing huge pots of food to offer our unexpected guests.
Late that night, we went to the Chapel. I exposed the Blessed Sacrament, the living Christ in the Eucharist, and we prayed with great intensity, overwhelmed by a confluence of deep emotions, difficult to translate into the poverty of human words… fear, sadness, fraternity, uncertainty, experience of the Gospel, anguish, words heard a thousand times and rarely taken seriously: “there is no greater love than this, to lay down one’s life…” “do not be afraid, I am with you…” “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do…” “This has been done for the fall and rise of many…”
We read Chapter 6 of St. John – in English, Spanish and Amharic – and discussed it among ourselves as the refugees tearfully shared the fears and anxieties that they had lived through that morning…
As we ate dinner, they gave us more details of how hordes of Muslims, blinded by hatred and revenge, entered the homes of Christians, street by street, house by house, beating up men and women, bashing them with their fists, beating them with stones, machetes and kicks – the same for men, women, children and elders. They yanked off doors and windows, engaged in looting, stole and destroyed what they could, and reducing the poor belongings of Christian families, per their report, to piles of rubble. Thousands of Christians fled in terror. Those who did not come to our house, hid at the perimeter of the Orthodox church; another large group managed to reach the military detachment of the federal army. Meanwhile, bands of Muslims, moved through the street in patrols, looking for more Christians to kill or beat, more Christian shops and businesses to destroy, rob, vandalize…
That night of August 4th 2018, Gode remained steeped in terror. Never in my 11 years at the mission in these dry African lands, had my eyes seen anything like it… Gode, the Somali region, would never be the same. At dawn the next day I traveled through the narrow streets of the city in shock, dodging burned vehicles, broken chairs, gutted televisions, clothing ripped to shreds, stones everywhere… It looked as if the Christian quarter had been shaken by an earthquake – and, in reality it had been: a human earthquake, the earthquake of Islamic hatred toward Christians. Forever in my memory will remain the cries that I heard our poor Catholic nurse make over the phone, asking me to come and get him. Forever I will remember the dilemma that gripped my soul, not knowing what to do… On the one hand, I wanted to help him at all costs, even at the risk of my life; on the other hand, I was thinking about the responsibility I faced for the many people who were depending on me. What would become of them, I thought, if they were left without their shepherd?
By the sheer grace of God, our nurse (I omit all names for security reasons) managed to jump the wall and hide in a neighbor’s house as the band of young Muslims kicked down the door of his room, threw everything around and robbed all his belongings of any value. On the following morning, we managed to get to him and brought him back with us.
This man is not the same person anymore. As with so many other Christians, he has remained deeply traumatized by what his eyes have seen, by the experience he lived. He no longer smiles as before… He is simply not the same person.
I approached the Orthodox church to ascertain the situation of the priests and the hundreds of families who sought shelter there between the church and the school. I was about to give a hug to the priest, and the instant I touched his back, he gave a jump and cried out in pain. I was stunned and he explained that the Muslims who had assaulted their enclosure with the intention of burning the church to its foundations – as they had already done in Jijiga, Dehabur, Kebre Deher – stoned him and beat him with sticks.
Without thinking twice, I forced him to get into my truck and took him to the hospital so they could give him a general examination and take X-rays. He was so traumatized and terrified, that he had not dared to go on his own, even at the insistence of his parishioners. He was in a state of shock just thinking about having to go out in the street where the bands of Muslims might attack him again.
We went back to my house, he and I. We offered him dinner, provided the medicines that were prescribed, and a missionary gave him a physical therapy session. From there we returned to his house… or what was left of it.
So many Christian refugees swarmed the Orthodox church – hungry, thirsty, sick, scared, with nothing more to spend the night than the tatters of clothing they wore – that, on behalf of the Catholic Church, we paid for food and water for almost five hundred refugees. They were our brothers… “you did it to Me…”
During the days the refugees stayed with us, we tried to help them fix their homes, armed with saws, hammers and nails; we bought basic equipment so that they could begin their life again; and provided a parcel of food for each one, thanks to the generosity of Caritas of Toledo.
They still echo in my ears – the screams and cries of the youngest children, as they told us, in their own words, how the Muslims had hit them and their mothers, how they had pushed them to the ground, kicked them, dragged their mothers on the ground by their hair, violently ripped their clothing…
The news coming to us from Jijiga was equally terrible. Even though the Government had cut Internet communication and suspended flights to the region, leaving us isolated, the phones still worked. As a result, I could be in constant communication with the Bishop who remained trapped in Jijiga.
In Jijiga, the Bishop told me that they had killed several Orthodox priests and deacons, burned churches, and profaned and desecrated places of worship. We were told there had been so many Christians murdered, that excavators carried corpses in trucks and threw them at the outskirts of the city so that they could be eaten by hyenas…
The Bishop, who had gone to Jijiga for the day, had to stay there five days, until the federal army troops finally penetrated the siege of Somali paramilitary forces, managing to open a humanitarian corridor. This chronicle of what happened, is sober and brief, I can assure you. I realize that it is one thing to read the news of the atrocities that Muslims daily commit against Christians simply because they hate us, and something very different is to be part of the news, “be in the news,” see it with your eyes, suffer it in your flesh and your spirit.
I think that after living these events, one is never the same person… Nevertheless, one learns many life lessons… I’ve learned that Christ is alive. That it is an entirely undeserved honor and a privilege to suffer and die for the sake of Jesus Christ.
That life passes in an instant, like that morning of this August 4th, when at 10am all is peace and quiet and at 11am, so many Christians had died for the crime of “belonging to Christ,” of being the Church.
I’ve learned the importance of being prepared, of living always in the grace of the Lord, of having the lamp lit – for, at the hour you least expect it, “the Spouse arrives.”
I’ve learned that life passes in an instant: “a bad night in a bad inn” said the great St. Teresa of Jesus and that it means nothing to say as many times as we say in the Divine Liturgy: “Maran athá, Maran athá, Maran athá…!” if in the end we do not await the Lord with our bunddle upon our shoulder and “girded at the waist…”
I have learned that for no one is martyrdom as real a possibility as it is for missionaries. These strange men and women, with restless hearts, lost in the peripheries and trenches of the first proclamation of the Gospel.
I’ve learned that having a link with his Bishop is of primary importance for a missionary priest. The day after the attack, I managed to talk with my Bishop in Spain, Archbishop of Toledo, Don Braulio Rodríguez Plaza. Until that moment, I was gripped by anxiety, by the emotion of all I had lived; I was full of doubts, without knowing what to do… I talked a long time with him… I do not know how to explain it – the serenity of his words and the wisdom of his advice gave me great peace. I felt that I was not alone, that I was linked through him with the Apostles, with the Church… grafted in Christ! That I was neither alone, nor fighting battles on my own account. I felt “re-sent” for Christ and the Church. From that moment something changed in my heart and in my pastoral and missionary disposition.
I have learned much from the heroism of the Bishop of our Vicariate, Monsignor Pagano. It was he who inspired us all during those days. Not with eloquent speeches or simple “human wisdom,” but encouraging us by his example to embrace the cross… by his willingness to not abandon his flock no matter what happened and even at the risk of losing his life. It is a great grace for me to collaborate with such a good shepherd and priest.
Pray for us. Do not abandon us! Pray for us. Help us with whatever donations you can give so that we can continue helping where the Body of Christ continues to be crucified in the flesh of Christians.
Nothing more, my dear friends; I would like to thank you all in the name of so many poor people who cannot do so themselves. I ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, Mother of Missionaries and Mother of the Poor, that she cover us with her holy mantle.
Before the Tabernacle of the mission we pray every day for all of you.
I BESEECH YOU, PLEASE RE-SEND THIS LETTER TO ALL YOUR FRIENDS, ALL YOUR CONTACTS, TO ANYONE YOU MAY KNOW WHO HAS HELPED US AND WHOM WE DON’T HAVE A WAY TO CONTACT. KEEP HELPING US, I PRAY, IN THE NAME OF GOD AND THESE POOR PEOPLE!
To collaborate with the Mission of Gode, here are the details. Name: Mission of Mercy Foundation Bank: BANKINTER Account Number: 0128-0014-73-0100029293 Iban: ES0801280014730100029293 SWIFT code or BIC: BKBKESMMXXX Please visit our web page: http://www.missionmercy.org
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