July 19, 2010

Mass allows Ethiopian community to come together in Lebanon

The Daily Star:-BEIRUT: Lebanon is widely known to be home to 18 official religious sects, but with the steadily growing numbers of foreign workers in the country, several other religions and sects now have a critical mass, requiring places to come together for worship and fellowship.

The current center of the Ethiopian Orthodox community is located at the church of the Convent of the Franciscaines in Badaro, where Ethiopian expatriates have been able to maintain their rich cultural and religious heritage every Sunday.


Akin to Lebanon, Ethiopia’s major religions are Christianity and Islam. It is estimated that approximately 60,000 to 70,000 Ethiopians are currently working in Lebanon. Many have been here for several years and don’t intend to return home to Ethiopia soon due to dismal economic and financial conditions. Overwhelmingly female, most are employed in household labor and are paid a wage that most Lebanese could never survive on. As of now, attending church on Sundays is one of the ways for the community to come together.

The service is in Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language. Worship typically begins at 8:00 am and concludes between 12:30 pm and 1:00 pm.

Most of the service entails the priest singing a capella canon to the congregation as they respond back in song, often bowing their heads. The inside of the church is impressive in its austere simplicity. The harsh white walls are unadorned and the wooden pews are worn, but worshipers brave the heat and humidity without air-conditioning.

The church-goers come from all over Lebanon by bus or taxi, from as close as Beirut’s suburbs to as far away as villages on the Lebanese-Israeli border. They remove their shoes before entering the church and loosely drape themselves in a matala, a thin, transparent white cloth that is symbolic of the purity and cleanliness necessary to enter the house of God. Women must wear long, modest clothing that covers their shoulders. Trousers and long skirts must cover the legs to at least the ankle.

Not all of Lebanon’s Ethiopian workers can always make it to church.

“I am lucky to be able to come worship today, my Madame doesn’t let me come always because she needs me to work on Sundays in the kitchen. Many other Ethiopians can’t come to our church at all because their Madame won’t let them have a day off,” said one attendee, who preferred to remain anonymous.

Until recently, Ethiopians lacked a church of their own, as they have been renting the Convent of the Franciscaines for the past decade, and before that, services used to be held at a church in Gemmayzeh. Finally, an Ethiopian Orthodox church was built two years ago in Ain Aar, above Bikfaya.

Ethiopian workers and ordinary Lebanese citizens who wished for the community to have their own place of worship funded Lebanon’s first official Ethiopian Orthodox church. However the new church is slated to be used only during special festivities and holidays, due to its location; hence regular church services are held in Badaro. The Ethiopian Orthodox calendar, which begins on the September 11, sees 150 festivities per year.

Ethiopians continue to remain wary of the media, amid the spotlight on less-than-adequate treatment by their employers, a rash of suicides by domestics, and the workers’ fear of being deported.

Photographers and journalists are asked to keep their distance, and for now, the church in Badaro is a place where the Ethiopians of Lebanon can come together, but not a place where Ethiopians can interact with the rest of their host society.

Source:- The Daily Star
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