AFP/ Bahir Dar
Draped in sacred white cloth, the procession drifted silently towards a priest calling the faithful to celebrate the Archangel Michael.
Around dawn, thousands of worshippers gathered at the church in Amhara, the second-largest region of Ethiopia, which is staging long-awaited elections tomorrow.
The devotees — some bent over canes and others clutching children — offered prayers to Saint Michael in a church bearing his name and a soaring Ethiopian flag in the city of Bahir Dar.
“This is a great day for us... In our faith, we pray to Saint Michael to bring us peace, and to protect us from evil,” said Huluager Kinde, a 27-year-old worshipper.
No mention is made of the conflict that has ravaged the mountainous northern region for seven months, or the violent ethnic unrest that afflicted other parts of the country, including Amhara. But a popular chant taken up by the congregation called over and over for peace and unity —a timely and poignant message in a multi-ethnic country of 110mn on the brink of a historic and tense election.
“Peace on Ethiopia, peace on our country, God please make our country at peace”, they sang in the ancient liturgical language Geez.
In the courtyard, some devotees immersed themselves in reading small and colourful religious books while others kissed the floor and walls of the church.A priest gently tapped a wooden cross against the foreheads of the faithful, offering a blessing on this holy day. Leaving the church, Ebabu Tsega, his forehead marked with a cross drawn in ash, said the vote was “essential” for Ethiopia. “I am very happy to go and vote because I am going to elect those who are going to lead me and represent me,” the 29-year-old elementary school teacher said.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who rose to power in 2018 on the back of popular demonstrations against the government, promised to hold Ethiopia’s most competitive elections yet.
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