Draped in a sacred white cloth, the procession goes silently to a priest who calls the faithful to celebrate the Archangel Michel, a saint revered in Ethiopia.
Towards dawn, thousands of worshipers gathered at the church in Amhara, Ethiopia’s second-largest region, which is holding its long-awaited elections on Monday.
Devotees – some leaning on sticks and others holding children – offered prayers to St. Michael in a church bearing his name and on top of metal crosses and a raised Ethiopian flag in the city of Bahir Dar.
“This is a great day for us … In our faith, we pray to St. Michael to bring us peace, and to protect us from evil,” said Huluager Kinde, a 27-year-old worshiper.
Leaving the church, Ebabu Tsega, his forehead marked with a cross drawn in ashes, said the vote was “essential” for Ethiopia.
“I am very happy to go to the polls because I will elect those who will lead me and represent me,” said the 29-year-old elementary school teacher.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 after popular protests against the government, has vowed to hold the most competitive elections in Ethiopia.
Monday marks his first election test since the prime minister launched a series of democratic and economic reforms.
But many voters – including parts of Amhara – will have to wait until September to cast their ballots, with elections postponed in about a fifth of Ethiopian constituencies due to unrest and logistical problems.
In Tigray, the war-torn region near Amhara, there will be no elections.
Gulilat Worku, another worshiper of the Bahir Dar church, hoped that voters would “peacefully accept” the result of Monday’s poll.
“We pray that every Ethiopian will participate in the elections, and accept the results,” the 34-year-old doctor said.