By Irene Lamunu
Fr, Tesfaldet Asghedon has been a priest for 32 years and is still counting his life in Priesthood. He has spent all his years as a priest working with the less privileged in the United States of America, where he has lived since 1985. After his seminary at the Comboni missionary in Asmara, he was sent to Chicago where he completed his theology studies; in 1985 he was ordained a priest. He began as a Comboni missionary and in 2010 became a diocesan priest. He is now attached to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in California, he says he’s still a missionary and will always be one. “The missionary in me can’t come out,” Fr. Tesfaldet had many reasons for joining the church to serve as a priest. The high school he studied at was close to the Comboni missionaries. He admired all the young seminarians and wished to become a priest. He also added that, he was intrigued by the Charisma of St. Daniel Comboni and what he did in Africa so he thought he would follow his foot step. Knowing the story of the young preacher Martin Luther King who was one of the best Movement leaders also added to Fr. Tesfaldet’s dream of becoming a priest.
After ordination, he worked in his home country Eritrea for only six years. After the six years, he was sent back to the United States where he has been working till today. Being a missionary then, he decided he would work with the less privileged in Chicago who were mostly Hispanics and African Americans community which was mainly composed of poor and less privileged people. Working with the less privileged has brought Fr. Tesfaldet a lot of blessings and they have taught him so much, he has always loved them, he has also tried and still fights for their human rights, helps give them food and lessons to learn the American Constitution. He also noted that he is privileged to understand the immigrants who live in the United States.
Fr Tesfaldet is working as the Pastor (Parish Priest) of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic church which is in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The Archdiocese formed a social ministry which helps all the less privileged, they help immigrants know their rights and also try to help the homeless with food. The ministry educates the immigrants with their voting rights, protects and even teaches them on their rights while they are living in the US. His office also helps teach people who qualify for citizenship in the United States about the US constitution and how to live in the US, he said, “Our office is always open for anyone who needs help, we give food to anyone who wants it. We have a food bank to help all the time.” The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has the Archbishop Mark Entyre fund and Fr. Tesfaldet’s ministry is one of the beneficiaries of the fund. He says that money is used as an emergency fund that helps to pay house rent and other bills for immigrants and people who cannot afford to.
The ministry has added Eritrean refugees on their program; he noted that they have an outreach for the Eritrean community in the Arch diocese of Los Angeles, the diocese has an ethnic ministry every weekend and they have 40 languages used during the ethnic ministry weekend and Tigrinya is one of the languages used. Fr. Tesfaldet wants to make the Eritrean community recognized in the diocese because after his ordination, he noticed that the Eritrean community had grown so he started mass once a month, the main reason of the mass was to make sure that they don’t lose their culture and also to help parents be parents in a foreign country and to help children stir clear of wrong ideas of the American cultures. Like any other ministry, Fr. Tesfaldet is also faced with a number of challenges, the major challenge being economic since the community he works with are the less privileged and they don’t make enough money or even if they make some good money, they have extended families back home and they need to send them some of the money. The ministry also faces a challenge of inconsistency because the parishioners have to work so many shifts, therefore they don’t have enough time to attend community gatherings. Fr. Tesfaldet is sad because most of the problems faced by the Hispanic, the black Americans and other immigrants have no solution but what gives him hope is the fact that the California State will soon introduce a minimum wage law which may lighten up his community financially.
He is happy about his community and they have taught him many things. “I get to identify with them, at least I speak their language, and they know that I am part of them. With the African Americans, I identify with them and can speak a language they understand, with the Hispanics, I can speak Latin and they understand and other communities I understand their culture so it makes it easy for me.” Added Fr. Tesfaldet. He noted that every year in February his community invites him to kick start the black history month, although he says it’s not easy with the community especially now with the new president who is insensitive to the Hispanic and immigrant community, he added that it’s very hard and he feels the pain and sometimes fails to put up something for the community. His greatest regret is that many Hispanics are not documented ,“Most of the Hispanic are not documented, you hear that someone has been deported and no one seems to care or help. There is this feeling of pain and anxiety and you tell them you will be with them till the end. You have to tell them there is going to be this Promised Land so that they don’t lose hope,”
He added that, the ministry has taken people for training and teaches them about their rights and also trains them to respond to cases of deportation or in case they are faced with cases of arrests. They also train children not to open the door for people they don’t know or let officers in their houses without warrants. Fr. Tesfaldet said they have also taught the community about the American constitution and how it protects them once they are on American soil. He is sad that the big political parties cannot help with the situation his community is faced with or stand to defend the unnecessary deportations. Another group of people that Fr Tesfaldet works with are the homeless people; he noted that his diocese has a big number of homeless people. The pain of the homeless people is heard in his voice when he is talking about them, he is so sad and says that it hurts so much to see so many people homeless and poor. Although some are homeless by choice, Fr. Tesfaldet says, the gap between the rich and the poor is so big and the people who need their help are in that fringe.
What saddens the Pastor of Sacred Heart Church is the fact that politicians make empty promises, once they get what they want, they forget the people who elected them to office. One thing that keeps a smile on his face are the lessons he has learnt from the people he works with. He said they have taught him to be strong and to look at situations from different perspectives. “The poor teach you to be strong, they are at their weakest point but still strong, even with children, you have to be strong,” Concluded Fr. Tesfaldet.
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