By Addis Getachew
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AA) - Myriads of people turned up to downtown Addis Ababa on Friday to celebrate Demera, the annual bonfire lighting ceremony, on the eve of the anniversary of Meskel - the finding of the true cross by St Helena in the fourth century AD.
Diplomats, expats and government officials as well as representatives of Orthodox Churches from a number of countries joined the celebration at Meskel Square, where hundreds of thousands gathered around the huge Demera, which is lit at sunset.
For over 1,600 years, the festival of Meskel – which means "cross" in Amharic – has been celebrated in the Horn of Africa country.
The celebration commemorates the alleged discovery of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified by Empress Helena, mother of Roman ruler Constantine the Great.
In his Demera Homily and Benediction, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Abune Mathias urged the nation to work to maintain the peace and unity of the country.
As of late, a tale sign of a potential crack within the Orthodox establishment has emerged as some members from the Oromo ethnic group – the largest ethnic grouping in the country – demanded a separate synod, which is a demand unprecedented in the history of the country.
In an apparent reference to this problem, the Patriarch said: “Divisive moves are destructive and should be stopped immediately.”
“We should keep our unity and peace as our common assets,” he said.
Security was heavily present after the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISS) last week announced that it apprehended a dozen Al-Shabaab and Daesh operatives in various parts of the country at various times with a mission to attack public events.
Before the Demera was lit up, a long parade by the clergy and Sunday school students staged various shows befitting the event.
A U.S. tourist, who has been to Ethiopia for three weeks now, Jill Stanton, told Anadolu Agency: “It is an incredible crowd out here. I am amazed by the devotion of the people that have gathered.”