By Father Yemane Aradom

I was a stranger and you welcomed me…  (Mt 25:35)

I am Father Yemane Aradom. I was born in Sudan and raised in Eritrea. My childhood was a happy one and I grew up in a loving Christian family. I will tell you the main events of my story which took me from Africa to Europe as a refugee. Forgive me for not being able to tell you the whole story.

My friend Gerezgher used to take me with him to Holy Mass every Sunday. Eventually, he encouraged me to become an altar server, and seeing my enthusiasm for this role, he planted the seed I should become a priest. I did not hesitate to say yes so he enrolled me in the junior seminary. This coincided with me starting high school. I felt uplifted and appreciated that this was a real call from God to serve him. I began to understand what a vocation is. I knew that it was God’s will that I should become a priest. I was growing up both physically and spiritually.

However, life was to change dramatically for me. In 2013 a new law was passed in Eritrea requiring all seminarians to interrupt their training in order to do compulsory military service. I was just 21. I had to choose between love of my country and love of my faith. The idea of bearing arms to kill others was repulsive to me. Therefore, I decided to leave my family, friends, and country behind. I would spend the next eight months risking my life to get to Europe. Consequently, in January 2014, I decided to flee from Alebu, my village, and make my way, with my close friend, to Sudan. This journey would be made on foot.

I could not say a proper good-bye to my family and friends. Only my sister knew where I was going. This decision was extremely hard for me.

The first stage of my journey from Eritrea to Sudan took us three days. Life in Sudan was very dangerous; we had to remain in hiding for fear of being deported back to Eritrea. After many difficult weeks in Sudan, we travelled to Libya with the assistance of a smuggler. We travelled by lorry through the Sahara Desert. The ten days in the desert were extremely harsh with some people dying of dehydration. However, I survived and managed to arrive in Libya. I had to remain in hiding in Libya at all times as I did not have a visa to remain as a refugee. I was under the constant control of the smuggler. I cannot share what happened there to me and my Eritrean friends. I witnessed many horrific things which I still remember vividly.

This smuggler got me on to a boat to Italy on the 5 June 2014; the journey took five days. After only two days the boat became unsafe, and we were rescued by Italian coast guards who took us to Sicily where we were put in a hostel. I did not feel safe and so I did not want to claim asylum in Italy. Some of my fellow refugees advised me to go to France and then to the UK.

On the 25th of July 2014 I travelled to France by train. It took me another day to get to Calais. We were not welcomed over there. We had no food, no accommodation, no shelter – the area where we refugees stayed was called the Jungle. This is an appropriate name as survival there was difficult. Some nuns generously gave us some food and water and I slept in a run-down Lorry. However, our sleeping quarters were discovered by French police who filled the lorry with tear gas. One of the police officers told me to go back to Africa. He had no idea of what had made me leave my country. I reflected on Jesus’s words on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Life is not always fair, but it is always better to forgive quickly, love truly for the sake of Christ. In 2014, Pope Frances spoke at the World Day for Migrants and Refugees. He said, “We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved.” Pope Francis added his vision for a “humanity for which every foreign country is our homeland, and every homeland is a foreign country.”

I spent twenty-four days in Calais and after a long journey finally arrived in the UK on the 19th of August, 2014. I immediately asked for asylum. This was the start of a happy new life for me. I was granted asylum and was able to work and survive in the UK. Jesus said, “Come to me all of you who are overburdened and I will give you peace and rest.” (Matthew 11:28.) Having survived the gruelling desert and stormy seas, I now finally have peace. I am safe!

In 2018 God guided my steps to meet the Bishop of Leeds, Marcus Stock, who enabled me to go to the seminary and resume my journey towards priesthood. The Diocese of Leeds welcomed a stranger into their midst and I am not a stranger anymore. This is my home and you are home.

Last year on the 23rd of July, Bishop Marcus Stock ordained me to the sacred priesthood. The Lord has chosen an unworthy man to serve you who welcomed me in my time of need. Currently, I am a curate priest in North Leeds, at the church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I am inspired by Mother Teresa’s words, “We are not expecting you to do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” I pray for peace and justice for everyone and thank God every day that I am able to live safely and peacefully in this country.

God bless,

Father Yemane.