A special role of the Tigray in Ethiopian Christian history is evident today which is the eve of the Epiphany. According to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church calendar the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist will be celebrated in a two festival. On the first day, Ketera (meaning blocking of waters for celebration) traditionally the congregants lead by the priest escort a tabot, which is a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, to initiate the holiday. On the second day after the celebration the tabot is returned to the church. This shows the continuity between the Jewish roots and Christian traditions in the saga of the Axumite empire.
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church began in Tigray in the city of Axum when in the 4th century King Ezana officially adopted Christianity. Many centuries before the Queen of Sheba of the same area had born a son, Menelik, from the Israeli king Solomon and according to church tradition had brought the original Ark of the Covenant to Axum.
Between November 19 and 20, 2020 Eritrean invaders came to Axum and killed hundreds of church worshipers. They left the bodies where they lay and did not allow the families to remove the bodies for several days. No doubt this attack was approved by the Ethiopian government. It escapes me how Ethiopians can celebrate this holiday after desecrating the traditional home of the Ark of the Covenant.
Esaias Afwerki and Abiy Ahmed despite his claim of Christianity seemed joined together in their hatred for Christians during the Ethiopia Tigray conflict.
About 40,000 Irob (sometimes spelled Erob) people live on the northern Tigray Eritrean border. They speak a different language Saho then the Tigray and high percentage of them are Roman Catholics due in part to schools and support services placed in the community by the Catholic Church since the 19th century. Traditionally they have been allies with the Tigray in opposing Eritrea and the Derg.
Many Irob who have lived in the areas recognized as Eritrean since Eritrean independence have suffered extrajudicial killings, imprisonment, displacement, and general deprivation for years. It was not unusual to hear that Eritrean authorities would come to dismantle Irob homes to use the lumbar for government projects. Authorities blocked church functions, funerals, and public gatherings to discuss local issues which were customary to Irob cultural tradition.
Since the Ethiopia Eritrean invasion of Tigray the situation only got worse. Investigation by the European Center for Law & Justice as well as the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights reports numerous murders of priests, Catholic lay, destruction of worship facilities, and also of social supportive buildings for the Irob. Many families report many if not all the men in their family were executed by Eritrean forces. This barbarism against is not only for Catholics but also Tigray Orthodox believers where more than 80 priests and lay worshipers were murdered in Axum .
During the invasion of Mekelle, I witnessed the artillery barrage destroying much of the building housing Catholic Charities. Eritrean forces then came and removed all files and communication equipment. While meeting with lay representatives of the church to discuss how we could help offer medical help, I was accosted by Eritrean soldiers and my cell phone erased by them.
Esaias Afwerki’s prosecution of Christians in Eritrea is rated by Open Doors as the 6th worst in world. He has closed Catholic schools and hospitals throwing sick patients into the street. Even though Abiy Ahmed claims to be a Christian and member of the Mulu Wongel (Full Gospel Believers Church) in Addis Ababa his partner in the war, Esaias has expelled, tortured, and killed many members of this same church in Eritrea.
Vatican Newsreports that Ethiopian authorities have raided a center in Addis Ababa arresting many priests, Salesian missionaries, volunteers, and employees. Many of the Salesians have lived in Addis since 1975 with strong pacifist sentiments.
The World Council of Churches representing 50 million Christians from 349 churches in 110 countries sent letters to both Abiy Ahmed and Ethiopian Christian churches in February 2021 condemning violence, lamenting displacement, and widespread hunger in Tigray.