The day commemorates the fourth century discovery, by the Roman Empress St Helena, of the so-called ‘True Cross’ on which Jesus was believed to have been crucified.
But this year, the usually joyous festivities were overshadowed by the ongoing conflict in the northern Tigray region. In their speeches, religious and civil leaders called for peace.
‘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,’ said Abune Mathias, the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Shadow of war
Security was tight in Meskel Square as hundreds of priests, musicians, and singers wearing white robes gathered to celebrate the day. Many expressed their concern about the ongoing conflict which broke out in Tigray in November 2020.
It has since spread to neighbouring regions, pitting the Ethiopian Federal Army against forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which is the party that controls the region’s government.
The war has resulted in the death of thousands of civilians, displaced millions of people, and resulted in famine in parts Tigray.
‘The cross signifies reconciliation. It restored peace and abolished conflict. The conflict between our two brothers should be solved through reconciliation. It’s imperative for the parties to come to an agreement and live in peace as we did before,’ said Tsegaye Gidey, a priest who attended the event.
Hoping for peace
The day is a public holiday in Ethiopia, which is home to the world’s second largest population of Orthodox Christians. Many of those who live in cities return home to their villages to celebrate the event.
Meron Tesfahun was one of thousands of devotees who took part in the festivities.
‘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 said.
As the annual bonfire was lit, her words echoed the sentiment of people across Ethiopia who are calling for an end to the civil war.