Thousands Attend Funeral of Ethiopian Archbishop
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Archbishop Teklehaimanot, the former barefoot monk who led Ethiopia’s 20 million Orthodox Christians through the turbulent transition from feudal empire to Marxist state, has died. He was 70.
State television and radio gave unexpectedly long coverage to Teklehaimanot’s funeral Wednesday, including a half-mile procession with much pomp through downtown Addis Ababa to Trinity Cathedral for the Requiem.
Thousands of weeping Ethiopians laid flowers on his coffin.
Memorial services have been held across this East African nation for the patriarch, who died Sunday night after an undisclosed illness.
Teklehaimanot dedicated his life to missionary work in primitive rural areas and was more at home shepherding his peasant converts than with the pomp of high church life.
He was elected patriarch in June 1976 at a time when the new military government was attacking the church for its opposition to change.
Significantly, the former Father Melaku chose the name Teklehaimanot, which means ″the tree of faith.″
Teklehaimanot replaced Archbishop or ″Abune″ Tewoflos, an urbane and widely traveled man who was detained in February 1975, five months after a Marxist clique of army officers overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie.
President Mengistu Haile Mariam’s government never brought charges against Tewoflos, whose fate is unknown.
After Teklehaimanot was elected patriarch, the government continued its onslaught against the church, nationalizing its vast lands and buildings.
The government gave the church a modest annual budget, but Ethiopians flocked to church in the millions after the revolution, attendance was at an all-time high and most parishes were self-supporting.
Anecdotes spread overnight that the new patriarch had difficulty wearing his new shoes and was more comfortable in the rough yellow kaftan of a monk than the fine robes of a prelate.
Within months of his election the frail, sad-faced monk was accepted as a humble and dedicated churchman whose ambition was to guide his adherents through the turbulent times without confrontation with the new military rulers.
Teklehaimanot involved the church in relief work in drought-stricken areas and often weeped openly when he preached of the plight of famine and drought victims.
Nearly half of Ethiopia’s 44 million people belong to the Orthodox Church while the remainder are mostly Moslems.
Teklehaimanot was born into a poor farming family in northern Showa province. He proselytized in remote parts of southern Sidamo region, bringing Christianity to an area where paganism was widespread.
Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia in the 4th Century by a Syrian boy called Frumentius, who converted the king, Ezana.