Meskel proved to be an inspirational moment in our “Return to Ethiopia” visit.  Thousands of people filled the Meskel Square with at least 2000 Orthodox clergy in the center.  We were seated in the special guest section and were mentioned by Addis Ababa’s mayor in his remarks.   We viewed a procession of dancers, marching bands, priests, nuns, and floats.  A gasp went up as the thousands in attendance lit candles to illuminate the ceremony.  The final event was to burn a great stack of reeds and wood that lit up the night.

Meskel is the celebration of the finding the cross on which Christ was crucified.  Legend has it that Emperor Constatine’s mother Helen led the party that found the cross.  This is a major event in the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar.

I recalled being in the same ceremony with Emperor Haile Selassie in the same square 50 years ago.  The difference was a much larger crowd and the massive number of clergymen.  Clearly the Ethiopian Orthocox church remains a focal point of Ethiopian life.  The next day was a holiday dedicated to attending church for a round of special commemorative events.  I, however, went with one of our group, Herb Reznick, to call on the congregation of a Jewish shul where he presented them with gifts from his congregation in the USA.  Herb will be working with this congregation in the years to come. 

By Friday the members of our “Return to Ethiopia” contingent began fanning out to visit their communiities of serivce and historic sites in Ethiopia.  Since I was not able to go to Asmara in Eritrea, the border between the two countries is closed and subject to sporadic acts of violence, I have come with some dozen members of our group to the ancient city of Harar billed as the fourth most important city in the Muslim faith.  Some of the group flew down while a smaller group, including myself, traveled by intercity bus, the true Peace Corps style of travel.  A long ride, 10 hours, but a great way to see the majestic mountain scenary with multiple shades of green brought on by the current rains. 

The visit continues to capture the attention of the Ethiopian public with extensive coverage by Ethiopian TV and several other TV services as well as the printed media.  No question, this visit has been a big hit with our travelers and the Ethiopian public.