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Ethiopian Orthodox Christians celebrate Meskel Festival with prayers for peace

Meskel Festival in Addis Ababa   -  
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Orthodox Christians have been marking the beginning of the Meskel Festival, one of the holiest celebrations in Ethiopia’s Christian tradition.

The joyous event sees hundreds of priests, musicians, and singers wearing white robes coming together in Meskel Square in the capital, Addis Ababa.

"We celebrate Meskel to commemorate the sacrifice of our lord Jesus Christ and the ultimate price that he paid for the sin of human beings," said church choir member, Birtkuan Ayalew.

According to Orthodox Christian tradition, the festival marks the finding in the fourth century of the “true cross” that Jesus was crucified on.

But this year, the commemoration comes against the backdrop of ongoing fighting in parts of the country which is divided along ethno-linguistic lines.

"To preach unity, there is no better alternative than the Meskel holiday. The church mainly teaches peace and unity," said Henok Habebe, who is attending the festival.

One Orthodox priest attending the celebrations in the capital said the power of Christianity was to reunite Ethiopians.

"It helps us to forget those differences that have shaped us for so many years and brought us to these conflicts, wars, hates and yeah, atrocities as you know," he said.

The highlight of the festival is the lighting of a bonfire decorated with flowers in the central square.

According to legend, Helena, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine I, was led to the cross by the smoke from a ceremonial bonfire.

A fragment of it was believed to have been brought back to Ethiopia, one of the oldest Christian countries in the world.

The Aksumite Empire, ancestor of present-day Ethiopia, made Christianity a state religion from the fourth century, at the same time as Rome.

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