By Addis Getachew and Seleshi Tessema
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia
Ethiopian Orthodox Christians on Monday celebrated Christmas with religious leaders calling the laity to pray and work for the maintenance of peace and unity.
In a sermon on the Christmas Eve, Abune Mathias, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, said: "The people, particularly the youth, should work for the maintenance of peace."
Ethiopian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, along with other Eastern Orthodox Christians around the world, some two weeks after December 25, when their Western counterparts celebrate Jesus' birth.
The ethnic tensions and scores of mob violence incidences left hundreds of people dead in the country over the last several months, while 2.7 million people were forced to flee their homes.
Earlier, Interreligious Council of Ethiopia declared two months of prayers for peace and unity.
Pastor Zerhiun Degu, the secretary-general of the council, told Anadolu Agency that all institutions of faith in Ethiopia had agreed to dedicate the coming two months to praying.
"Christians and Muslims will pray for peace, forgiveness and tolerance to put an end to the scourges of hatred and ethnic violence which had been threatening the peace and traditional cohesion of faiths and communities in Ethiopia," he said.
"For Ethiopian Christians, Christmas is an opportunity to pray and discuss the ways of overcoming the challenges the nation [Ethiopia] is facing. We are confident that our prayers will be answered."
Christmas is celebrated in Ethiopia with the laity going to churches for sermons and families getting together for special treats of raw meat, chicken stew, homemade bread, a traditional honey wine called Tej.