ADDIS ABABA, 4 May 2021 – The traditional crowds of visitors and tourists were absent Sunday during the Orthodox celebration of Easter in northern Ethiopia.
The war in Tigray and concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic combined to make the religious festivity surrounding the most important holiday in the Orthodox calendar a shadow of itself.
Lalibela is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site – the 12thand 13thcentury monolithic churches.
The collapse of tourism has hit Lalibela hard, with thousands of its 20,000 inhabitants, who live on tourism, losing their jobs or other means of livelihoods.
One hotel owner – Mesai Mekonnen of the Tukul Village Hotel – told reporters that while his hotel hosted 600 guests a month prior to COVID-19, the rooms are empty today and the kitchen closed.
The Ethiopian government ordered the churches in Lalibela closed to tourists from March to September last year.
Fewer than 600 tourists have visited since the hotels reopened, according to Haftamu Tesfaw, an official at the Lalibela tourism office.
On Saturday evening, priests wrapped in traditional white robes read the Bible by candlelight in the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela.
During this year’s “Fasika” – the Amharic word for Easter – we are praying “about the war in the country, the hunger in the country, the curse from God… We pray God to bring these things to an end,” said Misganaw, an Orthodox priest.
The Ethiopian Bible is the oldest and complete bible on earth. Written in Ge’ez, an ancient language of Ethiopia, it’s nearly 800 years older than the King James Version and contains 81-88 books compared to 66” books in King James Version, read one tweet on Sunday.
Ethiopia is one of the top five countries in Africa in terms of COVID-19 infections.
The country has recorded more than 259,000 cases of the virus leading to the death of about 3,700 people, according to the data updated Tuesday by the World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins University Hospital.