Is Church reclaiming its place in society?
Amid chilly conditions and light showers, Catholic bishops recited new vows—to slay the dragon of corruption—an elaborate process loaded with biblical and political significance and which could present a turning point for the church.
The choice of venue—Subukia National Shrine (dubbed Mji wa Maria or place where virgin Mary resides) in Nakuru—was apt because this is the place where Catholic faithful converge for prayers such as the annual National Prayer Day—every first Saturday of October.
Under the auspices of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, the church which is finding itself at the crossroads used the occasion to flex its muscles and regain its foothold in the society.
It is worth noting the clergy played a big role in opening up of the democratic space especially during the repressive Kanu era but it has recently been accused of abdicating its public watchdog role and giving politicians avenue to “wash” their dirty money.
Former Nakuru Catholic Diocese Bishop Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki, Bishop Alexander Muge of Anglican Church of Kenya Eldoret (who died in a road accident) and the likes of bishops Henry Okullu, Manasses Kuria and David Gitari are seen as heroes of the second liberation.
During their heyday, Ndingi, Muge, Okullu and Gitari became famous for putting then President Moi’s government on its toes as they preached against dictatorship, corruption and other social ills.
So fiery were the clerics that the Moi government branded them enemies of the “Kenyan people” and went to great lengths to persecute them.
The present Church leadership has quite often been reminded of the esteemed status of their predecessors in the 1980s and 1990s when its leadership faithfully stood for biblical values and principles and fearlessly called out the moral and legal inconsistencies in the country, with some, such as Muge and Father Anthony Kaiser, eventually paying with their lives.
Some Kenyans have loudly wondered the role of the Church, following claims it has gone to bed with politicians.
“If our courts are corrupt, governors are corrupt, Parliament is corrupt and Church is taking proceeds of corruption in donations, who will save us?” political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi asks.
Sign of humility
“Are they really churches or social clubs? Or worse still, have they not been turned into money laundering channels by wolves in sheep clothing who have a soft spot for corrupt politicians?” Prof Macharia Munene of the United States International University-Africa opines.
On Saturday, 23 Catholic bishops—representing all the dioceses in the country—removed their shoes as a sign of humility and submission and vowed to follow the footsteps of giants of religion such as the late Cardinal Maurice Otunga—who touched many lives with his mien.
“We wish to lead the country and every person of goodwill, to commit himself or herself before God to fight corruption from the grassroots up to the highest offices,” the bishops said.
“Our churches will not be used as political platforms or for any other activity other than for liturgy and worship. We shall, therefore, not allow any address within the church of any non-liturgical character,” they vowed in an unprecedented move.
“We come with a prophetic gesture to call to God for his mercy, to call on all Kenyans from the lowest to the highest; to change our wayward ways and to decide to reject any form of corruption,” they said as the members of congregation numbering over 100,000 roared in support.
“We do so with humility by removing our shoes in solidarity with those who have suffered and continue to suffer the dehumanising effects of corruption, they stated.
Mombasa Archbishop Martin Kivuva, who presided over the mass, said they were crying out to God to save the country from sleaze, adding that corrupt leaders have become a source of pain and mystery for ordinary mwananchi.
Kivuva said they can no longer sit back and watch as corruption threatens to consume the country, adding that just like the way David defeated Goliath in the Bible, they too, will triumph over evil.
When you look at the newspapers, you feel sad because of the millions of shillings being stolen from public coffers, he said. “Wengine wanajiuliza, tufanye nini? Tuhame Kenya? (What can we do now, can we leave Kenya?) But you cannot leave your country.
We have no other place to go home so we will get rid of the things that make our country look bad,” said Kivuva.
“We are in a dire situation. Read the newspapers. We’re here today to ask God for forgiveness because we have lost the way and plead with you to pray, too,” he added.
Thousands of Catholic faithful from across the country attended the event themed: “Baptise and Sent; Proclaim and Witness.” Its sub-theme was: “Let us break the chain of corruption”.
Archbishop Kivuva urged Christians to lead in the war against corruption, adding that the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations cannot do it alone.