'Warring' Ethiopians, Eritreans unite in Valletta church
Walking near the top of Merchants Street, in Valletta, on a Sunday morning one is bound to be drawn to St Catherine of Italy church by the sound of voices singing in unison.
Many stop to watch and listen. The Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo congregation claps as it sings, bodies swaying and arms raised in praise of the Lord.
Those who enter remove their shoes, kneel, make the sign of the cross and bow in worship, before sitting.
Song dominates the two-and-half-hour long service during which it is evident the participants are enjoying the ceremony.
When the service comes to an end, the congregation stands and forms a line going up to a makeshift altar where each kisses, kneels and prays in front of a number of framed holy images before going on to a priest holding a Coptic across which they kiss before the priest touches their forehead with it.
The congregation is made up of illegal immigrants who, on being released from detention, asked the director of the Emigrants Commission, Mgr Philip Calleja, for a place of worship where they could celebrate Sunday Mass.
Eritrean Manuel Fissanaye said that, initially, arrangements were made for them to use the Greek church, in Valletta. This was about a year ago when the congregation numbered 26. But after about three months, the congregation grew to over 200 and Mgr Calleja's assistance was sought once more for a bigger place to be provided.
The Coptic Orthodox have since been meeting at St Catherine of Italy church every Sunday at 8 a.m.
The service is partly in Ethiopian and partly in Eritrean. Although war rages between the two countries, the Ethiopians and Eritreans here are friends and blame the war on their governments.
"We have the same skin colour, the same culture, the same religion, we have intermarriages - we are one people," Mr Fissanaye said, adding that the service was carried out in both languages so that everyone would feel included and able to take part.
Asked about his problems in Malta, away from family and friends, Mr Fissanaye said he left his home country after graduating from university in search of a better life to support his family. He ended up here working as a labourer, unable to make use of his academic training.
"But everyone has problems. It is useless complaining and saying I have a problem. I accepted the situation and adapted to it."
His Ethiopian friend, Ashenafi Bulto said that sometimes people found it difficult to understand that everyone was a person, irrespective of one's skin colour and origins and should be respected as such.
The Orthodox Tewahedo Church belongs to the Oriental Orthodox family of churches. The Coptic Church, which has been a distinct church body since the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, regards itself as a strong defendant of Christian faith.
Daily, in all Coptic Churches around the world, Copts pray for the reunion of all Christian Churches. They pray for world peace and the well-being of the human race.
While the roots of the Church are based in Egypt, it has a worldwide following.
July 31, 2007
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