Shock as Eritrea expels successful Anglican priest

Asmara, Eritrea - The government of Eritrea has expelled the vicar of St George’s Church in Asmara — the only Anglican congregation in East African nation — and shuttered the congregation. Government officials gave the Rev Nelson Fernandez 10 days to leave the country on October 4. No official reason for his expulsion was given. “This was shocking news for us and for him,” the Rt Rev Mouneer Anis, Bishop of Egypt, said. An Indian national, Mr Fernandez had served as vicar of St George’s since 2000 and had been granted yearly renewals of his residency visa. However in September, the government granted him a three-month renewal, which was shortened to one month, two-weeks, and then to 10 days by officials of the Department of Religious Affairs. Mr Fernandez stated he believed the rapid growth of the congregation alarmed the government. Over the past five years, the complexion of the parish changed.

A parish of the diocese of Egypt, St George’s had grown from a congregation of 18 expatriates in 2000 when the parish was re-opened after a ceasefire was declared in the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, to an average Sunday attendance of over 250 at the time of the expulsion. “Since January, we’ve had to put in additional benches on Sunday nights,” Mr Fernandez told the Compass news service, “and even then the congregation was out the door, overflowing the building.” In September 2004, the US Secretary of State designated Eritrea as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for “particularly severe violations of religious freedom”. While the Eritrean Constitution provides for freedom of religion, government policy has been to curtail this right to four government endorsed groups: Ethiopian Orthodox, Sunni Muslims, Roman Catholics, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea.