After years of division, the Ethiopian churches of Nashville gather to mark reconciliation

Hundreds of Ethiopian immigrants and their families held a rare show of religious unification in South Nashville on Sunday after more than a quarter of a century of division.

The community tries to bridge a political and religious divide that lies 12,000 kilometers away and has a real impact on Nashvillians.

Abey Lissane, head of public relations for the Ethiopian Community Association in Nashville, remembers 27 years ago when the government collapsed and the religious patriarch fled the country.

"As a young Ethiopian orthodox Christian child, it was a confusing time," he says. State media reported for the first time that the patriarch simply left; later the official admitted that they had sent him into exile.

In the years that followed, a whole generation of Ethiopians lived across the world with a divided church: the one side that the exiled patriarch recognizes, the other that follows the leader installed by the church at home.

That gap is also present in Nashville & # 39; s growing Ethiopian community. Lissane says he thinks it is still a confusing time for children.

"They are going to this church and someone will tell them:" This is the right one, you should not go to the other & # 39 ;, and the other church does the same thing ", he says." So this has a huge impact on social life. "

But this seems to change. A new Prime Minister in Ethiopia recently welcomed the exiled religious leader and called for unity. And on Sunday night in Nashville, people from the different churches gathered for a reconciliation and worship.

Lissane says it gives him hope that the Ethiopian community in the city will be stronger, "learn from this mistake and try to mobilize a new way to move forward."

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