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But among individual Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, devotion to the church has more to do with a faith passed down for centuries than with these recent divisions.

“As an Ethiopian, our heritage is to endure, to consume less, to think deeper, to be reserved,” said Daniel Goshu, an Ethiopian immigrant who lived in Sweden for 12 years before moving to Virginia in 1995. “Our church is unchanged for 2,000 years. It is still there: endurance and consistency. That is what I inherited, and it walks with me always.”

Mr. Goshu describes his migration as “incomplete”; in his heart he yearns to help resolve the social and economic problems of his homeland. He also misses three aspects of life back home: the sun, the freedom to walk wherever he needs to go and being in close proximity to his church. He and his wife hope to pass on to their children, who are ages 10 and 12, a spiritual faith that has survived centuries.

“It is hard to know the secret of our church,” Mr. Goshu said. “There is no church in the world that has survived attacks from so many directions and still survived. In modern times, people say religion is prosperity. But when I was in Ethiopia, Christianity didn’t mean prosperity. It was something more spiritual.”

Most Catholic Eritreans and Ethiopians belong to the Ge’ez Catholic Church, which follows the rites and traditions of the Eritrean and Ethiopian Orthodox churches, including the use of the ancient Ge’ez language, and is in full communion with the bishop of Rome.

Organized in 1961 as an autonomous metropolitan church, the church now includes about 223,000 people worldwide. Ge’ez Catholics have one parish community in the Washington area, Kidane Mehret. During the years of the border war, the parish was led by Abba Tesfamariam Baraki, an Ethiopian immigrant who has since been incardinated in the Latin (Roman) Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.

Eritreans and Ethiopians worshiped together at Kidane Mehret during the 17 years Abba Baraki led the parish, but keeping the groups together was a challenge for the priest. Still, during the border war, local media descended on the parish, highlighting it as an example of cooperation among Eritreans and Ethiopians.

“We had catechetical programs together, youth programs together and the parish council met as one council,” he said. “But things got worse after the border war. Extremists tried to incite division, but the bishops did not encourage it. Bishops would come from Eritrea or Ethiopia and celebrate a communal Divine Liturgy. Occasionally, intermarriages happened and might still be happening. Now, people are tired of politics and are looking for peace and some sort of reconciliation.”

Today, the parish celebrates two liturgies on most Sundays: a 10 a.m. liturgy in Ge’ez and a noon liturgy in Tigrinya, the language of Eritreans from the central part of the country and of Ethiopians from the province of Tigray. But on feast days, the entire community worships together, drawing 1,000 people, according to Abba Araia Ghiday Ghebray, who has served as pastor of Kidane Mehret for more than a year.

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Tags: Ethiopia Cultural Identity Emigration Horn of Africa