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Ethiopia's Orthodox Christians denounce rise in arson attacks- La Croix International

Leaders call on the Govt to take decisive action after dozens of churches are destroyed

A major festival to commemorate the discovery of Jesus' cross took place in Ethiopia following a spate of arson attacks on churches. (Photo by Eduardo Soteras / AFP)

Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia do not feel sufficiently protected against attacks on their churches.

That was the clear message that the hierarchy of the Orthodox Church sent to the government on the occasion of Meskel's religious holiday in late September.

"Those who burn these churches must put an end to such acts," said Abune Mathias, the Orthodox Patriarch of Ethiopia, during Meskel's great feast commemorating the discovery of the True Cross on which Jesus Christ was allegedly crucified.

"We cannot accept at all those who burn churches or attack our disciples," he added, to the applause of the crowd.

'A silent government'

This year's Meskel celebration took place in a tense context, after two consecutive Sundays of demonstrations in the northern Amhara region, held specifically to protest church fires.

"Orthodox Christians are not happy with the government," Aklil Damtew, a senior official at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, told AFP.

At least 25 churches have been burned down in the country over the past two years, said Damtew. He described the number of attacks as "unprecedented" and added: "People are waiting for the government to say something about the Church. Why is the government silent?"

Ethiopian Orthodox Church leaders have therefore called on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to better protect their places of worship and to ensure that perpetrators of violence do not act with impunity.

For senior officials of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, these attacks are fueled by anti-Orthodox sentiment. But the motivations behind these attacks seem to be multiple, as the country has been plagued by numerous community violence and a rise in ethnic nationalism for many years.

Those conflicts have lifted the number of displaced people in the country to 3 million in 2019 – communities living across borders challenged by ethnic conflicts are the most affected.

According to a 2007 national census, Christians now represent 62 percent of Ethiopia's 105 million people, 43.5 percent of whom are Orthodox and 18.6 percent Protestants. The Muslim population stands at 33.9 percent.

Ethiopia was one of the cradles of Christianity ever since the conversion of King Ezana of Aksum by Saint Frumence of Tire in the fourth century. Until 1959, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was attached to the Coptic Orthodox Church, from which date it has appointed its own leaders.

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