May 26, 2011

Keren celebrates its catholic history

On May 29 each year, many Catholics go to Bilen, a town just outside Keren, Eritrea to celebrate Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. It is a huge celebration, with a religious procession, and much joyous feasting.

Eritrea was once an Italian colony. Most Italians are Roman Catholics. A Roman Catholic community was established just outside Keren in the 1800's. The Italian nuns built a shrine to Mary, inside a large baobab tree.

Christians honour Mary because she submitted herself to the will of God in obedience, to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and to give birth to Jesus. You can read this story in the Injil, [Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-24] Sometimes this honour is made so important that Mary is actually worshiped [usually by Roman Catholics]. This is a mistake - only God should be worshiped.

An event occurred in 1941, during World War II. The British army was fighting the Italian army. The British were advancing from Kassala, Sudan into Italian Eritrea.

As some British airplanes dropped bombs, a few Italian soldiers hid themselves in the shrine in Baobab tree. A bomb hit the tree, but did not explode. Presumably they thought the shrine and Mary protected them, and so they celebrate  this "miracle" each year.

A tourist describes his day at Keren for Festival of Mariam Dearit [Mary of the Boabab.]
Also described here. 

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