The ancient Tigray festival, Ashenda, is different this year but even more important. I had lived in Tigray for the past seven years. Every year at the end of August on the western calendar the Ashenda festival would fill the city of Mekelle, capital of Tigray, with more than a million visitors. The festival is a celebration of the main harvest coming, the Virgin Mary, womanhood, and ethnic recognition of the people of Tigray. Often times it comes when there is still a rainy season going on but that does not stop young women in ceremonial dress from gathering in the city with lots of singing and dancing.
This year is different. Starvation, killings of innocents, atrocities to women, limited planting, and ongoing war have changed their world to horror. Some internet trolls this year usually from the Amhara region wanted to sensationalize that this year Mekelle did not have the usual large crowds as well as suffering famine. In their twisted mind they imagined that an impingement in celebrating God’s creation was funny. They wished to demean the faith of Tegaru and especially of the Tegaru women.
The book, The Sabbath, written by Hebrew Rabbi Abraham Heschel came to mind to help explain how the Tigray see Ashenda. As Rabbi Heschel writes that our celebration of our creation and being close to God is not defined by a place. That God in creating the universe designated a time not a place for this most important part of our being. Although he mostly talking about the day of the Sabbath this exactly also goes for Ashenda. Even in the midst of misery and war we must find time for the sacred and for reviewing our relationship with God.
This year in the midst of a terrible invasion which killed and abused tens of thousands it is more important then ever to appreciate God’s grace. So instead of huge crowds young women and their families are still celebrating God’s gift of creation, of Mary’s role in Christianity, and the hope that Jesus Christ brings ultimately justice for his followers.
The heart and soul of Tigray in the midst of catastrophe has not waivered. They do not believe God has abandoned them. Women’s role in being the mother to Christ, to sustaining Tigray society, and even fighting it’s battles of defense against horrific oppression has special significance this year more then ever.
Rather than fighting about personal rights vs public health there is a Christian answer Jesus gives to his followers obviating this prominent protracted conflict about COVID-19 vaccination. Leave the willfully unvaccinated to their fate.
Although a little more than 50% of the adult population has voluntarily chosen to be vaccinated in most of the United States in contrast many Southern and Midwestern states have communities with rates as low at 10%. There is essentially universal concurrence among medical experts that vaccination will spare millions from death, prolonged illness, and disability with a very low risk of side effects.
Conservative political activists and politicians have redirected the discussion to one that focuses on the dangers of government mandates while ignoring the Constitutionally tested provision to promote the general welfare power of the government to mandate public health measures that are reasonable to protect the population. At this point I believe continued repetitive attempts to “enlighten” the immunization resistors will fail. The Center for Disease control had wanted to reach a 70% percent level of immunization to get to herd immunity which could reduce the epidemic to a rare occurrence.
Jesus in his ministry wanted his followers to make a conscious decision to follow him. Human beings are created by God with free will to sin or to love. To make right or wrong decisions for their own benefit. Being coerced into religion could not lead one to be truly faithful. Taking away that free will reduces one’s ability to willfully act justly. In the Gospel of Matthew he says if you are shunned by those who do not want you to visit or listen to you then you have no obligation to continue your effort to convince them. Instead you should “shake the dust of your feet” and move on. This is consistent with Christian morality.
I think this is the way we should deal with the anti-vaccination groups and individuals. If they become ill or die they will bear the burden of their actions. Those that believe in vaccination have the absolute right not to associate with them.