February 2023: Ethiopia / Lalibela: Pilgrimage Week of Blessing, Part#1

PBF experiences a Pilgrimage Week of Blessing in January- Make wide the room of your tent (Isaiah 54:2)

 Part 1 report of Abebe Zewdu

One of the most significant festivals in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is called Lidet or Genna, which falls in the first week of January and is known elsewhere as Christmas. The Holy City of Lalibela plays a prominent role in this in a multiple sense, once as a pilgrimage destination for tens of thousands, also as a celebration of family and of course as a reminder of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

I feel transported back to that early time of God’s birth in man. The joy finds expression in the singing of the pilgrims who, often with their last strength, with tired bodies, have reached the longed-for destination of a long journey after days, weeks or even up to three months.  They have very little with them for food. They fill up their plastic bottles at a body of water and quench their thirst. They ask for food on the way.  Some eventually return by a more direct route.

In Lalibela, the destination of their pilgrimage, there is a celebration. Many people come from near and far in buses, donkeys and all kinds of vehicles. The streets are jammed. Small shops, trade with religious objects, with richly decorated coloured clothes, animals change the townscape. The traders come from different towns around Lalibela. Renting accommodation from the locals provides a temporary livelihood.

Tea, coffee, tella (local beer), bread and especially injera the national dish, fruit juices and so much more are offered for sale on the streets. Religious music resounds from loudspeakers attached to churches. Despite all the hustle and bustle, it reminds us of the actual purpose of the pilgrimage.

The official statistics of the Lalibela Tourism Office give a somewhat exaggerated number of participants for 7 January 2023, which should not be mentioned here. It is said to be at least hundreds of thousands. Volunteers, mainly young people, serve in different areas of service. Above all, the custom of the washing feet is very meaningful and symbolic for the pilgrims.  It is a reminder of the biblical washing of the feet: Jesus performs this service on the apostles. The provision of drinking water and food also include multi-faceted services.