-- ZENIT.org News Agency
Military Conscription in Eritrea Straining Church
Seminarians Made to Join Army; Charity Work Restricted
LONDON, DEC. 4, 2012 (Zenit.org).- The charity organization Aid to the Church in Need is reporting that military conscription in Eritrea is killing the Church there.
A source from Eritrea, who requested anonymity, spoke with the charity about the situation, saying "compulsory military service is bleeding the Church in Eritrea to death."
The Church's work in parishes has become increasingly difficult as Christian workers, including many seminarians, have been kept in military service - many of them for more than 15 years.
The government does not set a fixed period for military service, claiming the threat of war is high.
Seminarians were technically exempt from military service between 2008 and 2011 - but reports received by ACN suggest many of those conscripted in 2008 were still in training camps.
"The government exaggerates the danger of war, as a pretext to keep people in military service," the source told ACN.
The source added: "In general, military service has led to a situation where there is a shortage of qualified workers in many professions - not just in the Church."
Those who have refused military service are among more than 2,000 Christians still imprisoned for their religious beliefs.
Most of these detained are members of non-recognized churches - a 1995 government decree only formally recognized the Orthodox Church, Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutherans and Islam.
While conscription has radically reduced the number of pastoral workers in the Church, charitable activities have also suffered from state interference.
ACN was told: "The Church has been forbidden to carry out charitable work. The government wants us to restrict ourselves to the church and vestry."
A 1995 decree reserves all social and welfare projects to the state, though the Church has so far resisted attempts to seize Catholic schools and other projects.
Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year conflict.
There are about 5.2 million people in the north African country - 47.3% of the population are Christian. Most of these are Orthodox, with Catholics making up just 4% of the population.
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