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History of the Catholic Church in Hawassa

Vicariate of Hawassa was originally founded as the Apostolic Prefecture of Negelle- Borena in 1937. It was elevated to the status of Apostolic Vicariate of Hawassa on March 15, 1979, with the nomination of the first Bishop, Msgr. A Gasparini, succeeded by Msgr. Lorenzo Ceresoli in 1994, then Msgr. Yohannes Migliorati in 2009. In 2016, Roberto Berhamaschi became the fourth Vicar Apostolic of Awassa. The Vicariate is a young but rapidly growing Church with 216,052 faithful accounting for 27% of the total Catholic population in the country.

Before the Vicariate of Hawassa was established (in 1979) it was proceeded by the apostolic activity of Comboni Missionaries (MCCJ), who arrived to Hawassa in 1964 as well as the work of Comboni Missionary Sisters (CMS) who joined them in 1965, opening communities in almost all the mission centers established by the MCCJ. 

Small christian community in Dongora (1983)Small christian community in Dongora (1983)

In 1965 first catechumens were baptized. After Hawassa other missions started being opened in Sidama area by Combonis: in Tullo (1966), Fullasa (1966), Shafina (1970), Dongora (1970) as well as Dilla (1970), located on the border between Sidamo, Gede’ò and Guji. In 1973, Teticha mission was started and some months later it was followed by the mission among Gede’ò people – Arramo.

Apart from pastoral work missionaries started focused on social work, especially education. The first school opened in Hawassa develop later into the prestigious “Comboni School”.

Mgr Armido Gasparini, first Apostolic Vicar of HawassaMgr Armido Gasparini, first Apostolic Vicar of Hawassa Mons. Gasparini (MCCJ) was consecrated bishop in 1979 and the Prefecture became a Vicariate Apostolic. With bishop Gasparini, the missionary field extended to other ethnic groups living in the region besides the Sidama. In 1972 the Spiritan Missionaries started their service in Borana, where they are serving up to now. They have opened mission centres at Yavello, Dhadhiim and Dokolle. Salesians of don Bosco joined the Vicariate in 1983 taking over the parish of Dilla, developing the mission in the spirit of don Bosco. The Jesuits opened a community at Gosa, among the Guji people, where later Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM) arrived. The Apostles of Jesus (AJ) after taking over in 1992 the parish of Arramo from the MCCJ, increased their presence opening two new communities, one at Galcha, and one at Amaro people. For many years the Vicariate has been served also by some Fidei Donum priests, among them fr. Franco Ricci from the diocese of  Bari, who was killed in 1992 while travelling to his mission of Soddu Abala. Other congregations which joined the Vicariate as years went by are: Sisters of Charity (Sisters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta), the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), the Franciscans Missionaries of Christ, the Daughters of the Mercy and Cross, the Vics (Lay Volunteers from Canada), the Lay Volunteers from Bari and Comboni Lay Missionaries (CLM). 

To enhance the growth of the local church towards self-reliance, Bishop Gasparini founded in 1988 women religious congregation - Handmaids of the Church. First professions took place in 1991. To the present, they are an Institute of Diocesan right. 

Bishop Gasparini provided for the creation of the basic pastoral structures of the Vicariate, the Catechetical/Pastoral Centre (1975), the Minor (1978) and Major Seminary, as well as the strengthening of  educational and health facilities - among these infrastructures the Major clinic of  Bushulo (1979). 

In 1991 first diocesan priests has been ordained, They were followed by a good number of other diocesan priests, who, along the years, took over parishes (Hawassa, Mike, Shafina, Tullo, Arosa Fullasa, Qege, Arosa) as well as other pastoral and social responsibilities at Vicariate level like Catechetical/Pastoral Centre, the Minor and Major seminary and the Diocesan Catholic Secretariat.

In 2004 the Vicariate of  Hawassa celebrated its Diocesan Synod, the first to be held in the history of all the Vicariates and Eparchies of Ethiopia. It marked undoubtedly a peak moment of renewal in the socio-pastoral set-up of the Vicariate.  Among the major topics debated during the Synod there were some specific challenges present in Hawassa Vicariate: Biblical formation, unity and collaboration among socio-pastoral agents, formation of lay leaders and ministries in the Christian community, youth pastoral care, evangelization, inculturation and ecumenism etc.