Sahle Work Zewde is the second high-ranking government official to remark in connection with the development within the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and speak in defense of the Unity of the church
Ethiopian President Sahle Work Zewde on Monday said that she met with the Patriarch of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church His Holiness Abune Mathias.
She wrote a Twitter message in Amharic thanking the patriarch for the time they had on Sunday.
From the pictures she released, their meeting happened in the Patriarchate.
Sahlework released a brief message written in Amharic reflecting on the developments that the Ethiopian Church has been facing in the past few weeks.
She has decades of experience and her messages tend to be of diplomatic nature in most cases. But her message today tends to be a little firm.
“The issue of religion is the issue of religious fathers and believers,” she said.
The Ethiopian Church has been resisting, in recent weeks, government interference which manifested itself in the form of providing multifaceted support to a group that the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Church excommunicated on the basis of the religious traditions and canons of the church.
The government in the Oromia region of Ethiopia supported the three bishops that broke away from the church to form an ethnic Oromo synod. The president seems to reject that as something that should not have happened.
“As I said before, exploiting religion and ethnicity for political advantage …is crossing the red line…,” she said.
President Sahlework Zewde was not shy, too, to express a deferential view toward Ethiopia’s age-old faith in the country. “We take pride in Ethiopia’s age-old religion and its history. Let us protect them and defend them from attack,” she added.
She also reflected on the importance of faith and expressed her grief over the loss of lives.
She said “faiths, for us believers, are our last stronghold. They give us strength, perseverance and hope.”
Earlier in the week, Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonen spoke firmly about the importance of maintaining the unity of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. His remark came after His Holiness Abune Mathias led a delegation of 12 bishops to the office of the prime minister, last Friday, to discuss Ethiopian Church demands based on the request from the government.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed remarked on what he called a “split” within the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church but attempted to legitimize the three bishops group when he suggested negotiation “between the two groups.”
His remark infuriated the followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. A planned peaceful demonstration (for February 13) was postponed after he pledged to the church fathers that his government will address the legitimate demands of the church. As it turns out, he did not address them. Rather, his government mounted a crackdown on preachers and activists in the capital Addis Ababa and elsewhere.
The Ethiopian church said it could call a demonstration anytime if the government failed to address the demands of the church. One of the demands is for the government to provide protection for churches in the Oromia region so that the excommunicated group does not continue to seize them by force – with support from the Oromia region.
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