Leaked letter and individual interviews suggest there may have been more than 78 who lost their lives.
Scores of priests have been massacred in the Tigray area of Ethiopia, according to a letter purportedly sent by Church officials there.
The Telegraph claims to have a copy of the letter, which was sent to the Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and leaked to the British newspaper. The letter says that “priests, deacons, choristers, and monks” have been “massacred” over the last five months.
“Half a dozen survivors confirmed the news to this newspaper and said that both Ethiopian national army soldiers and Eritrean troops went into their holy spaces across southeast Tigray and ‘shot them down,’” said the Telegraph.
Last November, fighting broke out in Tigray after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent in federal troops, supported by militia and army from Amhara, as well as troops from Eritrea, to fight the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which he accused of holding illegitimate elections.
Several days ago, a video was smuggled out of Ethiopia showing Abune Mathias, patriarch of Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church, condemning what he calls a “genocide” being committed on the ethnic Tigrayan people by the Ethiopian state.
Priests who survived told the Telegraph the death toll could exceed 78 priests.
If true, the killings would not be the first instance of anti-Christian violence. In December, up to 1,000 people — including priests and other church leaders — were killed in a series of attacks culminating in a massacre at a church where the Ark of the Covenant is believed to be kept.
Among others, the Telegraph quoted a 76-year-old priest who survived a massacre at the church of Gergera Da Mariam. He said he was praying on February 1 when 12 Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers barged into the church.
“They entered the holy room with their shoes. They shouted over us saying; ‘You are our enemies because you have comforted and preached to the villagers that this shall pass. You should not have done that,’” the priest said. “There were six priests in the room. They shot us all and left the church. My friends died. It is nothing short of a miracle I survived.”
Last Friday, Catholic News Service reported a priest from the Catholic Eparchy of Adigrat in Tigray saying that killings, abductions and rape are still occurring. The targets for killings are men and boys, who are being eliminated by armed forces and their allies, he said, and women and girls, who are being gang-raped to weaken any resistance.