The situation, the people, the Catholic Church and its challenges
Recently, an ACN delegation visited the dioceses Mombasa, Malindi, Lodwar, Kitui, Isiolo, Kisumu, Homa Bay and Nairobi. During our trip we got to know, that the biggest challenges for the Kenyan Catholic Church are the growing Muslim fundamentalist influence on the society – especially on the coast and in the Northern part of the country – and the fight against poverty and missing infrastructures.
The situation in Mombasa
Mombasa counts as the second-largest city in Kenya, with an estimated population of 1.3 million inhabitants. Located on the east coast of Kenya, Mombasa’s location on the Indian Ocean made it a historical trading center. Prior to Mombasa becoming the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate in the 19th century, there were many conflicts between the Portuguese and Sultans. The city has a cosmopolitan population, with the Swahili people and Mijikenda predominant. Other communities include the Akamba and Taita Bantus as well as a significant population of Luo and Luhya peoples from Western Kenya. The major religions practiced in the city are Islam, Christianity and Hinduism.
The first conflict between Muslims and Christians began in 1889. And ever since, there have been tensions between Muslims and Christians with peace not easy to achieve. Catholics in Mombasa make up a minority of 11%. The Islamic leaders try to catch young people in the way that they pay for education but they ask them to become Muslim. Christians in the area remain shocked by the last massacre in 2007. People had gone from house to house and asking : “Are you Christian?” killing 60 Christians along the way.
The priority here is interreligious dialogue. The diocese, led by
who became the Archbishop of Mombasa in January 2015, implemented a program for young people, both Muslims and Christians, who visit mosques and churches and communicate together about their respective faiths. The archbishop wishes to send his clergy and some lay people to take couses on Islam “to understand the Islam and to strengthen the interreligious dialogue.”
Another big challenge in the diocese is the great distance between several parishes. It takes 13 hours to reach the farthest parish by car! Archbishop Musonde wants to strengthen the Christian faith in his diocese. “There are places, where a priest comes only three times a year,” he points out. Around 500 catechists serve the church, where there is no regular priest.
The diocese is looking forward to the Pope’s visit this week (The youth have organized an interfaith peace caravan from Mombasa to Nairobi, where representatives from various denominations and religious backgrounds will travel together in a bus under the theme: “Together we can Work for Peace to come to meet with the Pope in Nairobi”. 3,000 people from many different religions backgrounds are expected to attend.
“I entered the seminary to become a priest and left it to become a brother”, says Brother John from the Brothers of St. Joseph in the Archdiocese of Mombasa in Kenya. Thanks to the scholarship of ACN he could follow his studies and help today with the administration of projects in the Archdiocese, where Catholics live in a Muslim environment.
The last massacre from extremist Muslims against Christians was in 2007. Since then there are still strong tensions between both religions. The Catholic Church implemented peace building programs. “It’s a challenge to secure peace but there is hope,” says Brother John.
The ACN delegation travelling through Kenya has visited a primary school in the Archdiocese of Mombasa where 1,200 children study. This school “shows that interreligious education is possible. Half of the children are Muslim, the other half Christian. The children play and study together in peace.”
Stay with us tomorrow! ACN will travel to Lodwar where the dry climate poses significant problems.
With thanks to Teresa Engländer for text and photos, ACN International
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada