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Ethiopians celebrate 'Timket' festival that marks Jesus' baptism

by Reuters Journalist

Thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox followers gathered in the capital Addis Ababa on Friday and Saturday to celebrate Epiphany, also called Timket, a religious festival commemorating Jesus' baptism in the Jordan River.

The annual festival is recognised by UNESCO as an important intangible cultural heritage. 

Followers marched from churches to Jan Meda, an open field in the capital, while priests carried tents called tabots, replicas of the Ark of the Covenant that are sacred in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the world's oldest churches.

Students sung hymns as youth ran ahead of the tabots to cover a street with red carpets to show their respects as priests spread incense and sprinkled holy water. 

The faithful wearing white traditional fabrics chanted, sang and bowed down before the tabots.

At the gathering on Saturday, Abune Mathias, patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, underscored the significance and symbolism of the day and called for peace, unity and forgiveness.

He also urged Ethiopia's leaders to work and advocate for peace.

"At the moment our fellow citizens: children, elderly, mothers and sisters are waiting to die because of hunger. Our Christian faith will be in question if we keep quiet," he said.

A two-year conflict in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region that ended in November 2022 drove people from their homes, destroyed harvests, leaving widespread hunger in the area. 

Although the religious festival was celebrated across the country, in some areas it was disrupted by conflict in the Amhara region.

Gondar, Amhara region's second-biggest city, usually attracts many people during the Timket festival.

But a few days prior to the festival clashes broke out between government forces and Fano, a local militia.

"Many who planned to attend Timket in Gondar have already cancelled their plan," a resident of Gondar told Reuters.

Fano has been battling the army since late July, leading  the government to declare a state of emergency in the region.

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