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A letter addressed to Pope Francis regarding the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI along with GAJEC’s call for action

January 13, 2023

His Holiness, Pope Francis
Apostolic Palace
00120 Vatican City,

Your Holiness,

The Global Alliance for Justice – The Ethiopian Cause presents its deepest compliments to His Holiness Pope Francis I and respectfully presents its appeal hereunder for consideration.

We are writing to Your Holiness today first, to offer our deep condolences for the passing away of His Holiness the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI may he be blessed in eternal memory. His late Holiness will be remembered for his intellect, his great stewardship of the doctrine of the church he led, and his reaching out in brotherhood to other communions, particularly to the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches with whom the Roman Catholic Church has so much in common. We also value the work Your Holiness has done in furthering his efforts in this regard.

Reaching out to others and working towards reconciliation and strengthening ties of brotherhood must however include an acknowledgment of unfortunate events in the past which have caused strain and distance to be encountered. One of the significant events that have affected the ties between the Holy See of St. Peter and the people of Ethiopia is the Italo-Ethiopian war and the occupation of Ethiopia by Fascist Italy from 1936 until 1941. As Your Holiness must know, Fascist Italy committed many terrible atrocities during its invasion and over the course of its five year occupation of Ethiopia. During the initial invasion, the use of poison gas and other chemical agents in violation of the Geneva Conventions was documented. Civilian areas were targeted for firebombing, and even Red Cross tent hospitals came under attack. Then during the early days of the occupation, the Fascists conducted the horrendous Yekatit 12 genocidal crime in which 30,000 Ethiopians were massacred within only three days following the commandment of the Fascist Italian leader, Rudolfo Graziani. Just weeks later the Fascist authorities massacred the monks and the faithful at the ancient Debre Libanos Monastery and looted its treasury. The total number of Ethiopians massacred by Fascist Italy are known to be one million. These atrocities including the vast quantities of cultural properties looted from Ethiopia, carried out by the Fascist authorities and their surrogates, were well documented, yet in the interests of political expediency, there were no war crimes trials against Italian Fascist leaders as there were against the German Nazis and the Japanese Imperial authorities who were held responsible for their crimes. Instead, many of the worst perpetrators of atrocities in Ethiopia were allowed to live freely and even prosper unmolested

in post-war Italian society for political reasons. This injustice has never been properly addressed.

In 1936 during the initial invasion of Ethiopia, several senior Roman Catholic hierarchs in Italy known to have voiced support for the Italian side in the war were seen blessing Italian troops headed to the Horn of Africa, and even supported the war financially. They even gave their gold rings to support the war effort. Neither then, nor during the five year occupation has the Vatican explicitly denounced the atrocities being committed against the people of Ethiopia by the Fascist government of Italy, or expressed regret for the role certain Catholic clergy played in them, nor has the Holy See addressed this issue in the decades since then. It is known that many items of religious, historic and cultural significance which were looted from Ethiopia have found their way into the hands of Roman Catholic institutions in Italy and the Vatican itself.

Upon his return to his throne on May 5th, 1941, the late Emperor Haile Selassie I in his speech to the people of his country instructed us not to forget the wrongs that had been perpetuated against us, but to forgive our enemy as instructed by the Christian faith. However, an important element of forgiveness is acknowledging the wrongs committed by the perpetrator and those that may have benefited from his crimes. Forgiveness is not dependent of it being sought, but it certainly helps. We respectfully request that Your Holiness carefully examine the history of this issue, and the injustice that has been suffered by the Ethiopian people, and consider how the Roman Catholic Church under your enlightened leadership can help to heal this deep and festering wound. It should be recalled that the Vatican has apologized to the Jewish people as well as those of Latin America and Rwanda.

Again, we offer our sincere condolences on the passing away of the Pope Emeritus, and offer our warmest and most respectful greetings to you as the holder of the Chair of Peter, and Roman Pontiff.

With our most respectful regards,

Lij Nebyat A Demessie
Deputy Chairman
Global Alliance for Justice

Cc The Prime Minister of Ethiopia
Cc The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
Cc The European Union Parliament
Cc The African Union