The annual Meskel Festival was observed by thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in the nation’s capital, Addis Ababa. The day honors the so-called “True Cross,” which is said to be where Jesus was supposedly crucified, being found in the fourth century by the Roman Empress St. Helena.
The continuing fighting in the northern Tigray province, however, cast a pall over the often-happy celebrations this year. Religious and political figures urged peace in their statements.
The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, Abune Mathias, declared: ‘For all of us who are followers of Jesus Christ, if we neglect forgiveness and reconciliation, then we have abandoned the cross and surrendered to sin.’
Meskel Square was well guarded as hundreds of priests, musicians, and singers dressed in white robes gathered there to commemorate the occasion. Concern over the ongoing war that started in Tigray in November 2020 was widely expressed.
Since then, conflict has extended to other regions, pitting the Ethiopian Federal Army against supporters of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the political entity in charge of the region’s administration.
Millions of people have been uprooted by the war, thousands of civilians have died, and regions of Tigray are now facing starvation.
“The cross signifies reconciliation,” remarked Tsegaye Gidey, a priest who was in attendance. He said that it ended fighting and brought back peace.
“Reconciliation is the best way to end the hostility between our two brothers. It’s essential that the sides reach a deal and live-in peace like we did previously,” he added.
In Ethiopia, which has the second-largest population of Orthodox Christians in the world, the day is a public holiday. To mark the occasion, many city dwellers travel back to their villages.
One among the hundreds of enthusiasts that attended the celebrations was Meron Tesfahun. “May God help us pass through this time and help us to bring back our previous love, which is my big prayer. We must all fall to our knees and pray for peace,” she stated.
Her sentiments mirrored those of Ethiopians around the country who are asking for an end to the civil conflict as the yearly bonfire was lit.