Christians go underground to celebrate Christmas in Ethiopia

Posted by News Express | 25 December 2015 | 3,427 times

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It has been more than 30 years since that old rocker Bob Geldof launched the charity initiative Band Aid for famine in Ethiopia with the poignant tune, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Since then, it would seem from afar, Ethiopia has hovered on the edge of disaster, with the ever-present threat it could sink into another cataclysmic disaster or famine like that of the mid-1980s.

But celebrating Christmas in Ethiopia now resonates with concerns about a different kind of threat in this region where extremists are attacking anyone who does not follow a very narrowly defined notion of Islam.

Last July, Pope Francis called the persecution of Christians across North Africa and the Middle East a “true genocide” that must be stopped after 28 Ethiopian Christians were massacred in Libya by followers of the so-called Islamic State.

Thus a very old tradition, the holding of Christmas services literally underground is taking on new meaning.

In fact, Ethiopians and other Christians are at risk in Libya, Egypt and Somalia, among other countries where, moving from the margins of one society to another, they have gone to work and try to build families. And many thousands more Ethiopians have made their way here to Italy or to other parts of Europe to try to establish new lives.

So the traditional rites of the Ethiopian Church are looked on with nostalgia by the new generation of exiles abroad, and as an affirmation by those who still live in the country.

This year, on Jan. 7, the date of Christmas on the Julian calendar, more than 50,000 Christians will celebrate the holiday in the Churches of Lalibela hewn out of solid rock at a time, in the 12the century, when it seemed all of Christendom might be overrun by the armies of Islam.

The fortress of Lalibela, a few hundred miles from the capital Addis Ababa, has 11 monolithic Christian churches carved from huge individual rocks in the 12th Century that are joined together by a labyrinth of buried tunnels and trenches. Some are shaped like crosses; others resemble Greek temples. They are all carved and chiseled from the stone. Nothing has been added, not altars, windows, doorways or chapels, all is carved from the same stone.

King Lalibela in the 12th and early 13th centuries meant for these churches to be a new wonder of the world, a new Jerusalem, as he called the site after the Jerusalem of the Holy Land was taken by the armies of Islam in 1187. The river that runs nearby he named the River Jordan.

Thus a very old tradition, the holding of Christmas services literally underground is taking on new meaning.

In fact, Ethiopians and other Christians are at risk in Libya, Egypt and Somalia, among other countries where, moving from the margins of one society to another, they have gone to work and try to build families. And many thousands more Ethiopians have made their way here to Italy or to other parts of Europe to try to establish new lives.

So the traditional rites of the Ethiopian Church are looked on with nostalgia by the new generation of exiles abroad, and as an affirmation by those who still live in the country.

This year, on Jan. 7, the date of Christmas on the Julian calendar, more than 50,000 Christians will celebrate the holiday in the Churches of Lalibela hewn out of solid rock at a time, in the 12the century, when it seemed all of Christendom might be overrun by the armies of Islam.

The fortress of Lalibela, a few hundred miles from the capital Addis Ababa, has 11 monolithic Christian churches carved from huge individual rocks in the 12th Century that are joined together by a labyrinth of buried tunnels and trenches. Some are shaped like crosses; others resemble Greek temples. They are all carved and chiseled from the stone. Nothing has been added, not altars, windows, doorways or chapels, all is carved from the same stone.

King Lalibela in the 12th and early 13th centuries meant for these churches to be a new wonder of the world, a new Jerusalem, as he called the site after the Jerusalem of the Holy Land was taken by the armies of Islam in 1187. The river that runs nearby he named the River Jordan. (thedailybeast.com)

•Photo courtesy of Suzanne Porter/Alamy.


Source: News Express

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