Although historians in this respect tend to focus more attention on the 16th century and onwards because of the arrival of the Portuguese Jesuits, Catholic missionaries have been trying to engage Ethiopia since the latter part of the 13th century.

Integral to the success of Catholic missions in Abyssinia was the ability of missionaries to inculturate. Abyssinian Christianity gives special attention to the Lazarists and Capuchins since it was they who helped erect a permanent home for Catholics today.

It is during the early 19th century, notwithstanding previous efforts, that the Catholic missions finally appear to have established this permanency in Ethiopian lifestyle. Three important persons set themselves apart from the rest during this time period:


Father Giuseppe Sapeto, Lazarist Missionary (1811-1895):

Although his actions were at times judged as compulsive, it was through Fr. Giuseppe Sapeto’s efforts that the Ethiopian Catholic rite was able to establish itself in the country.

His literary contributions and diplomacy with the indigenous people set the pace for future Catholic priests and religious to enter and establish themselves in Abyssinia.


St. Justin De Jacobis, Lazarist Missionary (1800-1860):

If Fr. Giuseppe Sapeto set the pace, St. Justin De Jacobis set the standard.

His personal affinity for the indigenous clergy and faithful, and vice-versa, helped others understand that imposition of opinions and life becomes counter-productive at best.His openness did not transgress a single doctrine, but rather enforced the importance of unity of the Christian faith and respect for the free will of his fellow man.

It was an approach that inspired others, such as the Blessed martyr, Ghebrè Michael, to endure physical and mental torments for what he held to be true doctrine and love of neighbour.


Mons. Guglielmo Massaia, Capuchin Missionary (1809-1889):

Made cardinal towards the end of his life, this Capuchin missionary was recognised, amongst many things, for his diplomacy to the point of being asked by the King of Shoa, Menelich II, to become his personal interpreter in dealing with foreigners.

And, contrary to popular belief, he did his best to discourage Italian colonialism.

His efforts helped establish a stability that allows the Capuchin Friars to continue to serve in Ethiopia and Eritrea.