Eritrean Catholic Church

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Eritrean Catholic Church
Kidanemhret Catholic Church, Asmara, Eritrea.jpg
Classification Eastern Catholic
Polity Episcopal
Governance Metropolitanate
Pope Francis
Leader Metropolitan Menghesteab Tesfamariam,
Archbishop of Asmara
Region Eritrea
Liturgy Alexandrian Rite
Headquarters Asmara
Origin19 January 2015
Branched from Ethiopian Catholic Church (2015)
Members167,722 (2017) [1]

The Eritrean Catholic Church is a Metropolitan sui iuris Eastern particular church headquartered in Asmara, Eritrea. It was established in 2015 by separation of its territory from that of the Ethiopian Catholic Church and the setting up in that territory of a new sui iuris metropolitan Eastern Catholic Church. [2] It follows the Ge'ez form of the Alexandrian liturgical rite.

A metropolis religious jurisdiction, or a metropolitan archdiocese, is an episcopal see whose bishop is the metropolitan bishop of an ecclesiastical province. Metropolises, historically, have been important cities in their provinces.

Sui iuris, also spelled as sui juris, is a Latin phrase that literally means "of one's own right". It is used in both civil law and canon law by the Catholic Church. The term church sui iuris is used in the Catholic Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO) to denote the autonomous churches in Catholic communion:

A church sui iuris is "a community of the Christian faithful, which is joined together by a hierarchy according to the norm of law and which is expressly or tacitly recognized as sui iuris by the supreme authority of the Church" (CCEO.27). The term sui iuris is an innovation of the CCEO, and it denotes the relative autonomy of the oriental Catholic Churches. This canonical term, pregnant with many juridical nuances, indicates the God-given mission of the Oriental Catholic Churches to keep up their patrimonial autonomous nature. And the autonomy of these churches is relative in the sense that it is under the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff.

Eastern Catholic Churches Autonomous, self-governing particular Churches in full communion with the Pope

The Eastern Catholic Churches or Oriental Catholic Churches, also called the Eastern-rite Catholic Churches, and in some historical cases Uniate Churches, are twenty-three Eastern Christian particular churches sui iuris in full communion with the Pope in Rome, as part of the worldwide Catholic Church. Headed by patriarchs, metropolitans, and major archbishops, the Eastern Catholic Churches are governed in accordance with the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, although each church also has its own canons and laws on top of this, and the preservation of their own traditions is explicitly encouraged. The total membership of the various churches accounts for about 18 million, according to the Annuario Pontificio, thus making up about 1.5 percent of the Catholic Church, with the rest of its more than 1.3 billion members belonging to the Latin Church, also known as the Western Church or the Roman Catholic Church.


Its strictly-speaking official name is "The Asmara metropolitan sui iuris Church". [3]

Like the other Eastern Catholic Churches, the Eritrean Catholic Church is in full communion with the Holy See. It holds to the Christological definition taught at the Council of Chalcedon and accepts the universal jurisdiction of the Pope. These points distinguish it from the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which is an Oriental Orthodox church comprising most Christians in the country. Like the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Eritrean Catholic Church follows the Ethiopic liturgical rite in the Ge'ez language, a Semitic language which fell out of common use several centuries ago. This rite is based on the Coptic Church liturgy.

Full communion is a communion or relationship of full understanding among different Christian denominations that share certain essential principles of Christian theology. Views vary among denominations on exactly what constitutes full communion, but typically when two or more denominations are in full communion it enables services and celebrations, such as the Eucharist, to be shared among congregants or clergy of any of them with the full approval of each.

Holy See Episcopal jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome, Italy

The Holy See, also called the See of Rome, refers to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope, which includes the apostolic episcopal see of the Diocese of Rome with universal ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the worldwide Catholic Church, as well as a sovereign entity of international law.

Council of Chalcedon Fourth Ecumenical Council held in 451; not accepted by Oriental Orthodoxy

The Council of Chalcedon was a church council held from 8 October to 1 November, 451, at Chalcedon, a town of Bithynia in Asia Minor. The Council was called by Emperor Marcian to set aside the 449 Second Council of Ephesus. Its principal purpose was to assert the orthodox catholic doctrine against the heresy of Eutyches and the Monophysites, although ecclesiastical discipline and jurisdiction also occupied the council's attention.


Pre-20th century

In 1839 Giustino de Jacobis, an Italian Vincentian priest, arrived as a missionary in the area that is now Eritrea and northern Ethiopia. He preferred to employ the local liturgical rite in the Ge'ez language rather than the Roman rite in Latin. He attracted a considerable number of local priests and laity to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. He died in 1860 at Halai, near Hebo, in what is now the Southern Administrative Region of Eritrea. [4]

Saint Giustino de Jacobis was an Italian Roman Catholic bishop and professed member of the Congregation of the Mission who became a Vicar Apostolic in Ethiopia and the Titular Bishop of Nilopolis. He is also known as Justin de Jacobis.

Congregation of the Mission society of apostolic life

Congregation of the Mission is a vowed, Roman Catholic society of apostolic life of priests and brothers founded by Vincent de Paul. It is associated with the Vincentian Family, a loose federation of organizations who claim Vincent de Paul as their founder or Patron. They are popularly known as Vincentians, Paules, Lazarites, Lazarists, or Lazarians.

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

In 1869, Italy began to occupy Eritrea and in 1890 declared it a colony of the Kingdom of Italy, fostering immigration of Italians. In view of the changed situation, the Holy See set up on 19 September 1894 the Apostolic Prefecture of Eritrea, entrusted to Italian Capuchins, thus removing Eritrea from the territory of the Apostolic Vicariate of Abyssinia of the Vincentians, who were predominantly French. [5] [6] In the following year, the governor of the colony expelled the remaining Vincentian priests on the unfounded suspicion of having encouraged armed resistance. [7] [8] [9]

Italian Eritrea Italian 1890-1947 possession in East Africa

Italian Eritrea was a colony of the Kingdom of Italy in the territory of present-day Eritrea. Although it was formally created in 1890, the first Italian settlements in the area were established in 1882 around Assab. The colony officially lasted until 1947.

Kingdom of Italy kingdom on the Appenine Peninsula between 1861 and 1946

The Kingdom of Italy was a state which existed from 1861—when King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia was proclaimed King of Italy—until 1946—when civil discontent led an institutional referendum to abandon the monarchy and form the modern Italian Republic. The state was founded as a result of the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which can be considered its legal predecessor state.

The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin is an order of friars within the Catholic Church, among the chief offshoots of the Franciscans. The worldwide head of the Order, called the Minister General, is currently Friar Roberto Genuin.

Most of the local population who became Catholics had been members of the Eastern Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria, from which the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church separated only in the mid-20th century. They kept the rites of that Church in the ancient liturgical language of Ge'ez, giving rise to an Ethiopic-Rite Catholic community. [10]

Eastern Orthodox Church Christian Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second-largest Christian church, with approximately 260 million baptised members. It operates as a communion of autocephalous churches, each governed by its bishops in local synods. Roughly half of Eastern Orthodox Christians live in Russia. The church has no central doctrinal or governmental authority analogous to the Bishop of Rome, but the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognised by all as primus inter pares of the bishops. As one of the oldest surviving religious institutions in the world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Near East.

Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church Oriental Orthodox Church in Ethiopia

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is the largest of the Oriental Orthodox Christian churches. One of the few pre-colonial Christian churches in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has a membership of between 45 and 50 million people, the majority of whom live in Ethiopia. It is a founding member of the World Council of Churches. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is in communion with the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, having gained autocephaly in 1959.

First half of 20th century

What was once the principal church of the Apostolic Vicariate of Eritrea Asmara Church.jpeg
What was once the principal church of the Apostolic Vicariate of Eritrea

The prefecture apostolic of Eritrea was raised by the Holy See to the status of Apostolic Vicariate (headed by a titular bishop) in 1911. [11] [6] In addition, an Ethiopic Rite Ordinariate of Eritrea was established on 4 July 1930, removing those Catholics from the jurisdiction of the then much larger Latin Church Vicariate. [12] [13] Father Kidanè-Maryam Cassà, who since 1926 had been their pro-vicar within the Vicariate, was appointed their ordinary and on 3 August 1930 was ordained titular bishop of Thibaris in the chapel of the Pontifical Ethiopian College in Vatican City. At that time they numbered less than 3% of the population of Eritrea. [14] [15]

The greater importance at that time of the Latin Vicariate is reflected in the impressive church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary that was completed in 1923 as the seat of the Apostolic Vicariate. Even after the demise of the Vicariate in 1995, it is still called "the cathedral". [16] [17]

Association with Ethiopia

At the beginning of the 1940s nearly 28% of the population of Italian Eritrea, which had been part of Italian East Africa since 1936, was Catholic; mostly Italians and of the Latin Church. [18] There was a pronounced fall in the number of Italians present after the end of the Second World War, when Eritrea was at first under British military administration. The British census of 1949 showed that Asmara, the capital, had only 17,183 Italians out of a total population of 127,579. The departure of Italians accelerated further when Eritrea came under Ethiopian authority at the end of 1950. The relationship between the Latin Vicariate and the Ethiopic Ordinariate was thus inverted. On 31 October 1951, the Ordinariate of Eritrea was raised to the level of an Exarchate (the Eastern equivalent of a Vicariate) under the name of the Apostolic Exarchate of Asmara, [13] at the same time as the Apostolic Exarchate of Addis Ababa was created. On 25 July 1959, the name of the Latin Vicariate of Eritrea, which in spite of the greatly reduced number of its faithful kept its rank, was changed to Apostolic Vicariate of Asmara. [6] However, after the fourth and last bishop who was Vicar Apostolic of Asmara retired on 2 June 1974, the Vicariate was administered by the Capuchin priest Luca Milesi, who became a bishop only when the Vicariate was suppressed in 1995 and he was appointed the first Eparch of Barentu. [19]

Catholic church in Halib Mentel in the eparchy of Keren Central Eritrea banner - 2008-11-01.jpg
Catholic church in Halib Mentel in the eparchy of Keren

On 28 February 1961, the Ethiopian Catholic Church was established as a Metropolitan sui iuris Church, consisting of the Archeparchy of Addis Ababa and two suffragan sees, one of which was that of Asmara, while the other was the newly created Ethiopian Catholic Eparchy of Adigrat (previously the Prefecture Apostolic of Tigray). [13]

Coincidentally, the Eritrean War of Independence began later that year, and ended in 1991 with a decisive Eritrean victory.

In independent Eritrea

Church (formerly Latin-rite) in Akrur in the eparchy of Segheneyti Catholic church in Akrur.jpeg
Church (formerly Latin-rite) in Akrur in the eparchy of Segheneyti

On 21 December 1995, under Pope John Paul II, parts of the Eparchy of Asmara became two new eparchies, based respectively in Keren and Barentu. The much reduced Apostolic Vicariate of Asmara was abolished. [12] The only Catholic Church jurisdictions in Eritrea were thus all of the Ethiopian Catholic Church, making Eritrea the only country where all Catholics, including members of the Latin Church, are entrusted to the care of Eastern Catholic bishops.

On 24 February 2012, Pope Benedict XVI created a fourth eparchy based in Segheneyti with territory taken from the then Eparchy of Asmara. [20]

On 19 January 2015, under Pope Francis, the Eritrean Catholic Church was erected as an autonomous sui iuris metropolitan church with Asmara as its metropolitan see and the other three Eritrean eparchies as suffragans, separating it from the Ethiopian Catholic Church, whose metropolitan see was thus left with only three suffragans. [3]


Eritrean Catholic eparchies from 1995 to 2012. In red that of Asmara, from which that of Segheneyti was taken in 2012. In north, that of Keren; in west, that of Barentu. Eritrea - Eparchia di Asmara.png
Eritrean Catholic eparchies from 1995 to 2012. In red that of Asmara, from which that of Segheneyti was taken in 2012. In north, that of Keren; in west, that of Barentu.
Southern Administrative Region, in which is situated the cathedral town of the Eparchy of Segheneyti Southern in Eritrea.svg
Southern Administrative Region, in which is situated the cathedral town of the Eparchy of Segheneyti

There are four eparchies (bishoprics) in the country: [21]

Statistics 2016 [26]

Resident bishops21115
Eparchial priests2075125103
Religious priests316202237395
Men religious602226390777
Women religious4983581105719
Permanent deacons20002

Relations with Government of Eritrea

Since 2004, the State Department of the United States of America has repeatedly listed the State of Eritrea as a country of particular concern with regard to religious freedom. However, it indicates that the Catholic Church is granted some favours, limited in number and extent, not granted to other religious communities: "permission to host some visiting clergy; to receive funding from the Holy See; to travel for religious purposes and training in small numbers; and to receive exemptions from national service for seminary students and nuns". [27] National service is demanded of most Eritreans, men and women, between the ages of 18 and 40 or in practice 50 or more and is often of indefinite length. [28] [29] [30]

The Catholic bishops issued on 25 May 2014, the 23rd anniversary of the independence of the state, a pastoral letter that some saw as critical of the Government. An English translation of the document, the original of which is in the Tigrinya language, extends to 17 pages. [31] The bishops spoke of the emigration of the many young Eritreans who risk their lives in the hope of emigrating to other countries. [32] They repeated what they had written in 2001: "[N]o-one leaves a land of milk and honey to seek another country offering the same opportunities. If one's homeland is a place of peace, jobs and freedom of expression there is no reason to leave it to suffer hardship, loneliness and exile in an effort to look for opportunity elsewhere." [33] They spoke also of "the delusion engendered as result of the non-achievement of the ends proposed, the uselessness of one’s own aspirations, looking to distant lands as the only alternative for self-fulfilment, are bringing a growing number of people to frustration and desperation. They find themselves looking at a horizon that grows always darker and heavier. Alongside this, the breakup of the family unit inside the country – through military service unlimited in terms of time and monetary reward and through the imprisonment of many young people in actual prison or in punishment camps – is exposing to misery not only elderly parents with no visible means of support, but also entire families and it is having serious consequences at the economic level as well as at the psychological and mental levels." [34]

The Eritrean agency TesfaNews questioned the bishops' sincerity and interpreted information provided by WikiLeaks [35] as indicating that the Archeparch of Asmara "is a certified, anti-government and National service religious leader residing at the helm the capital Asmara". [36]

See also


  1. The Eastern Catholic Churches 2017
  2. "a Metropolitana sui iuris archieparchia Neanthopolitana seiungimus eparchias Asmarensem, Barentuanam, Kerensem et Segheneitensem. Ex ita facto territorio, quod Erythraeam complectitur, novam Metropolitanam Ecclesiam sui iuris Asmarensem appellandam constituimus" (Apostolic constitution Multum fructum of 11 January 2015)
  3. 1 2 Apostolic Constitution ( papal bull ) Multum fructum of 19 January 2015
  4. Brief History of the Catholic Eparchy of Keren, Eritrea
  5. Decree Ut saluti animarum, in Le canoniste contemporain, year 18, Paris 1895, pp. 56-57
  6. 1 2 3 Annuario Pontificio 1964, p. 741
  7. Dan Connell, Tom Killion, Historical Dictionary of Eritrea, (Scarecrow Press 2010 ISBN   978-0-81087505-0), pp. 140–142.
  8. A. Billot, La France et l'Italie: Histoire des années troubles 1881–1899 (Paris 1905), pp. 231–236
  9. Annales de la Congrégation de la Mission (Lazaristes) et de la Compagnie des Filles de la Charité, 1895, pp. 247–255
  10. "Chronology of Catholic Dioceses:Eritrea — Den katolske kirke" . Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  11. "GCatholicasmaralatin">Apostolic Vicariate of Asmara,
  12. 1 2 Changes in Ecclesiastical Circumscriptions in Eritrea,
  13. 1 2 3 Annuario Pontificio 1964, p.40
  14. Antonio Cataldi, I missionari cattolici italiani nell'Etiopia occupata (2013), p. 125
  15. Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique, Volume 100, Issues 3-4. Université Catholique de Louvain. 2005. p. 1010. Retrieved 25 February 2017.
  16. ""Un antico tempio cattolico della capitale: La Cattedrale di Asmara, Chiesa della Beata Vergine del Rosario", pp. 28-29 of a 2011 issue of Missionari Cappuccini commemorating the centenary of the foundation of the Apostolic Vicariate of Eritrea" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-12-20. Retrieved 2016-12-17.
  17. Administrator, shabait. "The Asmara Cathedral: An Architectural Wonder -" . Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  18. Bandini, Franco. Gli italiani in Africa, storia delle guerre coloniali 1882-1943 Chapter: Eritrea
  19. Cheney, David M. "Bishop Luca Milesi [Catholic-Hierarchy]" . Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  20. Catholic Hierarchy
  21. Ethiopian/Eritrean Catholic Church Archived 2010-02-25 at the Wayback Machine
  22. "Metropolitanate of Asmara, Eritrea (Eritrean Rite)" . Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  23. "Eparchy of Barentu, Eritrea (Eritrean Rite)" . Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  24. "Eparchy of Keren, Eritrea (Eritrean Rite)" . Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  25. "Eparchy of Segheneyti, Eritrea (Eritrean Rite)" . Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  26. CNEWA: The Eastern Catholic Churches 2016
  27. United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. 2016 Annual Report, p. 42
  28. "Eritrea won't shorten national service despite migration fears". 25 February 2017. Retrieved 10 January 2017 via Reuters.
  29. "Miserable and useless". 10 March 2014. Retrieved 10 January 2017 via The Economist.
  30. Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for. "Refworld - Eritrea: Military service, including age of recruitment, length of service, grounds for exemption, penalties for desertion from and evasion of military service, and availability of alternative service" . Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  31. Pastoral Letter of the Catholic Bishops of Eritrea "Where Is Your Brother"
  32. "Eritrean Bishops issue pastoral letter decrying emigration" . Retrieved 10 January 2017.
  33. English translation, 19
  34. English translation, 20
  35. "Gse Tightens Control on Official Religious Institutions". 21 December 2016. Retrieved 10 January 2017 via WikiLeaks PlusD.
  36. "Four Eritrean Catholic Bishops Issue Pastoral Letter Decrying Emigration". 10 June 2014. Retrieved 10 January 2017.

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