The calling he heard as a boy in Ethiopia answered in Boston cathedral – By Tania deLuzuriaga, Boston Globe Staff

May 26th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

As a boy growing up in a small village in Ethiopia, Tamiru Atraga felt called to do God’s work. But he couldn’t have imagined it would take him halfway around the world.

Atraga was one of seven priests ordained yesterday in a Mass at The Cathedral of the Holy Cross. He is the first Ethiopian priest to be ordained in the 200-year-old Boston Archdiocese, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley said during the service. (more…)

As a boy growing up in a small village in Ethiopia, Tamiru Atraga felt called to do God’s work. But he couldn’t have imagined it would take him halfway around the world.

Atraga was one of seven priests ordained yesterday in a Mass at The Cathedral of the Holy Cross. He is the first Ethiopian priest to be ordained in the 200-year-old Boston Archdiocese, Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley said during the service.

“It is a very historic event,” O’Malley said, prompting applause from the crowd of several hundred that gathered to witness the ordination.

Ethiopians from across the region attended the event, clearly delighted to see one of their own become a man of the cloth. A small group of Ethiopian Catholics attends Mass each week at the cathedral and many of them live in the Boston area.

“Everyone has been wanting to have a priest from our community,” said Bisrat Abebe, who came to Boston with Atraga from Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa in 2000 as a fellow seminarian. “Tamiru will be a great priest. He’s very prayerful and easy to interact with.”

Fiori Hailemaram traveled to Boston from Washington, D.C., yesterday with her mother to see Atraga ordained.

“This is a blessing,” she said after the service. “I’m very proud of him, very happy. It’s another confirmation of the unity of the church.”

Ethiopia was an Italian colony from the early 1900s until the 1940s, but less than 1 percent of the population there is Catholic. Most Ethiopians are Muslim or Orthodox Christian. In 1993, the country’s northern province of Eritrea declared independence and became a sovereign nation.

“The countries are broken up, but the Church has remained the same,” Hailemaram said.

The youngest of 11 children, Atraga was raised in a devout Catholic family in the southern part of Ethiopia. He felt God’s calling early and entered seminary when he was just 14.

“The voice inside was killing me,” said Atraga, who is now 30. “It was a constant ache.”

In 1996 he met a visiting priest who asked whether he wanted to come to the United States to finish his studies. The pair corresponded for years, and in 2000, Atraga left his homeland to fulfill his destiny. He has not been home since.

But after growing up in a village without any roads or street lights, Atraga had a hard time adapting to life in Boston. Driving was scary. It was cold. The cultures were completely different.

“The most difficult thing was getting to know people in terms of spirituality,” he said. “Yes, you might go out and enjoy a dinner with someone, but it was very difficult to get to know them.”

Over the next eight years, Atraga set about establishing his life in Boston, studying at St. John’s Seminary and working at St. Ann Parish in Neponset as a deacon.

“He’s a very humble and a very joyful man,” said the Rev. Daniel Hennessey, director of vocations for the archdiocese.

With his story of immigration and perseverance, Hennessey said he sees Atraga as a bridge to bring people facing adversity back to the church.

“He’s a man who has asked serious questions about life and faith,” he said.

He has been assigned to Immaculate Conception Parish in Malden and will assume his new responsibilities in the next few weeks.

Tania deLuzuriaga can be reached at deluzuriaga@globe.com.

  1. UNKNOWN
    | #1

    Ethiopia never been colonized and you need to read more before writing!

  2. | #2

    Thank you.

  3. Workitu
    | #3

    Please get your story right before you publish it. Ethiopia has never been colonized throughout her history. Italy just occupied her for five years and was later chased out.

    Congratulations to the new priest.

  4. Arefe
    | #4

    Ethiopia never colonized by any Euoropian! my be
    the priest is cross breed he want say “Eritiria”
    please be advise to correct. thank you.

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