St. Mary’s Octagon Church…Mt. Entoto, Ethiopia

It is our last day in Ethiopia. The city has grown tired and tiring after many days of work. We hop a bus headed outside of city. The bus starts climbing the steep mountains that ring the city, spewing black smoke as we make our way for Mt. Entoto the highest peak which overlooks the city of Addis Ababa.

We pass small villages composed of tin shacks, rusted and old. At times one can imagine that the rain seeps into the cracks and the old souls who reside within them. Occasionally we pass by traditional round houses made of sticks or plastered mud. Thatched roofs of cut grass look as if they have been thrown there by the wind.

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As we climb further the landscape begins to disappear before our eyes. Where once great forests of eucalyptus trees once stood, only wooden stumps remain. Men hang in the remaining trees cutting the tops and working down. The deforestation is intense, scary and troublesome but understandable. The poor cannot afford gas stoves.

We share the road with small, scruffy donkeys who trot up the steep incline but perhaps the most amazing thing is the donkeys go down with nothing on their backs while old women carry HUGE bundles of sticks on their backs bent-over from the immense weight of their load. It is ironic: donkeys unused and the women used up.

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Finally we arrive at our destination on Mount Entoto.  The whitewashed façade of Saint Mary’s octagonal church captures the sunlight  and beams it through the nearby trees.  We pay a local for a tour.

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First we view what we are told is the oldest church in Ethiopia which is said to be over 1000 years in age. Built into a hill it is primitive and mysterious.

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Then we head over to Saint Mary’s, which was constructed in 1882 by Emperor Menelik for his wife Empress Taitu.  Their coronation was held here in 1889.  As impressive as the church is in its simplicity it’s the inside that captivates us. Bright bold biblical murals line the center of the building. We find paintings depicting the birth of Jesus as well as Jesus healing the blind that are just amazing. Nearby is a museum and the holy spring to which those afflicted with AIDS flock.

This is a spiritual place. A quiet place after all the hustle and bustle of Addis. It is a place where one comes to nourish the soul and replenish the heart. And I am glad we came, because I was not aware how depleted I was after seeing/helping street orphans and families with autism who are ostracized to the point where they are skin and bones unable to secure the help they need. Where autistic people are still chained in place so they cannot run and where they and their families are thrown off buses because they are thought to be “possessed.” And as I sat in the harsh sun I wished that they could be sitting next to me so they could drop their load of misery and worries for just a few minutes and find peace. A peace that is so elusive in a place where the “unloved” and the disabled serve as carpets to be walked upon by the rest of society.

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