Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Men with Extraordinary Heroism

As the week began with Martin Luther King’s day, it‘s natural to honorably echo his life, legacy, bravery and his influence elsewhere in the world. Not only as the symbolic leader of American blacks but also as a world figure whose imprints had universal impact. His struggle for freedom and human rights left a great impression throughout the nations. His love for his people and country didn‘t let him sit idly with his arms folded and allow brutality to reign over his own fellowmen. He was arrested twenty times and assaulted at least four times; yet, he didn‘t give up, and his unwavering struggle finally took away his life, as well. However, his sacrifice bore fruits eventually.
When I think of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., another man always comes to my mind concurrently in Ethiopian history. Both individuals had some marked similarities, which is the focus of today‘s piece. Not only were both of these people God‘s servants, but also passionate lovers of their people and country. They both nobly sacrificed their lives for their great cause: exposing the injustice and suppression of their people by their perpetrators. Well, that man who used to live on this side of the planet (whom some even compared him to saints), and who demonstrated similar kind of incredible heroism as MLK, is Yetekeberu (Reverend) Abune (Patriarch) Petros (Peter). Abune Petros was one of the first four native Ethiopians who were anointed as bishops by the Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria to serve under the Coptic born Archbishop Abune K‟erllos of Ethiopia in 1932. Abune Petros was given the province of Wello (north eastern part of Ethiopia) as his diocese. In 1936, the Fascist Italian armies of Benito Mussolini occupied much of Ethiopia, and Abune Petros traveled to the then northern Shewa district of Menz to join the sons of Ras (honorary title of the army, which means ‘head’) Kassa, and other resistance leaders to plan an attack on the Italians to drive them out of Addis Ababa. Nevertheless, this plan of assault failed the following year, and the Bishop was captured in 1937. To cut a long story short, the Italians gave him the following ultimatum upon his detention: to stop preaching against the occupying army‘s violence and terror against civilians and the patriots, accept the Italian authorities in Addis Ababa and ultimately condemn his fellow

patriots as bandits. “Otherwise”, he was told, “you will lose your life”. Here comes the extraordinary heroism of this individual: Abune Petros refused to comply with the ultimatum set by his tormentors, and through the Italian interpreter, gave the following response to the interrogating officers of the invading army: “The lamentation of my fellow people who died due to your nerve-gas diffusion and bombardment of heavy shells will never be forgotten; my con-science could never accommodate your ultimatum. How could I see my God if I have a blind eye to such a heinous crime?” and turning towards his people, he quoted from the Scriptures, “Listen to me, you who know righteousness, a people in whose heart is my law, do not fear the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings. For the moth will eat them like garment …… (Isaiah 51:7-8)”. Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthews 5:10)”. And he paused...forever. Seeing that he defiantly refused to submit to the Italian rule, he was immediately condemned to death. Shortly before his execution, Abune Petros dressed in his clerical robes, (as you see him on his statue) held up his hand cross and pronounced his anathema on the people and on the very earth of Ethiopia itself, if his people were ever to submit to the invader. He was then shot to death in front of a horrified audience. What more heroism could be demonstrated for a love of one‘s people and country other than such one?
To conclude, both Martin Luther King Jr. and Abune Petros were simply ordinary men but they exhibited extraordinary heroism in confronting inhumanity and repressive regimes. It was this magnificent courage that made them exceptionally laudable. Were these two gallant personalities able to exhibit such kind of incredible heroism due to their strong faith in God? And could lack of such individuals in society (who can take such a bold act of sacrifice to one‘s fellow people), the main reason for not yielding notable changes in bringing about true democracy? As Elmer Davis once said, "A nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave." Let‘s all take this opportunity to thank both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abune Petros for demonstrating love and compassion to their people through sacrifice.

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