, 23 March, 2020 / 6:21 AM
Kenya’s religious leaders drawn from various faiths, including four Catholic Bishops and a nun, heeded President Uhuru Kenyatta’s invitation for the National Prayer Day Saturday, March 21 at the Nairobi-based State House, leading Kenyans in seeking divine intervention over COVID-19 pandemic, with the call to repentance dominating the event broadcast live on various Kenyan media outlets.
“Dear people of God, my brothers and sisters, our Kenyans wherever you are, we welcome you all to today’s National Day of Prayer as we were invited by our dear President Uhuru Kenyatta on 18th March 2020,” Archbishop Anthony Muheria of the Catholic Archdiocese of Nyeri said in his role as one of the two Masters of Ceremony at the March 21 event.
“We invite you all, from all faiths, from all counties, from all walks of life, join us today, this day, to raise our hearts to God, led by the representative religious leaders present here at State House,” the Catholic Prelate said.
At the Saturday event that started at noon, President Kenyatta set the tone of the theme of repentance that characterized the prayerful input of the religious leaders who spoke, representing the 26 Kenyan clerics in attendance.
“Today is not my day but our day as a nation to seek God’s forgiveness for anything that we may have done wrong individually and collectively as a nation, and seek his favour on the challenges we are facing,” said President Kenyatta.
The President also responded to critics who had faulted his declaration of a National Prayer Day, fronting the argument that the challenges in the East African nation are not because Kenyans are not praying but rather due to the government not taking seriously the health sector.
“Prayers won’t help Kenya combat the coronavirus pandemic. Let’s stop this superstition and return to science. This primordialism and naivete could wipe us off the face of the map,” Kenyan Professor, Makau Mutua tweeted.
Responding to the criticism during the Saturday prayer event that brought together religious leaders, including Christian, Muslim, and Hindu, President Kenyatta said, “I know there are those who are saying that we should depend on science, not prayers. But I want to reassure you, that even science needs God.”
Inspired by St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:6–9) encouraging prayer “about everything,” President Kenyatta had declared March 21 the National Day of Prayer on Wednesday, March 18 after the country had confirmed, the previous day, four cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
“We cannot ignore the need to turn to God,” President Kenyatta, a practicing Catholic, said in an official statement March 18 declaring the National Prayer Day , adding, “We have learnt over time that turning to God in such times gives us not only comfort but also hope and strength to overcome even those challenges that for us as humans may seem insurmountable.”
The number of confirmed cases has risen to 15 on Sunday, March 22, with at least 360 individuals being sought after for having been in some physical contact with the COVID-19 patients.
Calling on God as “our refuge and strength” during the opening prayer at the event, the Chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), Archbishop Philip Anyolo implored God in His “own supernatural way, to take control of the coronavirus in this country and the whole world.”
“Lord, surround us now with your grace of healing, reconciliation and lasting peace so that by the guidance of your Holy Spirit, we may walk together and restore our nation to tranquility, order, and prosperity,” Archbishop Anyolo implored.
To restore hope among Kenyan who might be panicking, 2 Chronicles 7:13-15 was read, a scripture reading that encourages people of God to repent and seek God’s mercy and forgiveness.
The head of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Archbishop Jackson Ole Sapit said that many across the globe had slid into the thinking that they are self-sufficient and moved away from God because of capitalism and liberalism tendencies.
According to the Anglican Prelate, the challenge of COVID-19 was providing humanity an opportunity to turn back to God for mercy for “Repentance is a call to return to God and turn away from sins. True repentance is more than just talking, but a change of behavior.”
“Returning to God is not an option, we must do it and do it now. We must reconcile with one another and have genuine love for one another. We must walk in the route of truthfulness and justice,” Archbishop Ole Sapit added.
He expressed confidence that God is in control and urged Kenyans not to be afraid for God is in control of situation and that they would emerge from COVID-19 pandemic stronger.
“Coronavirus has humbled the mighty … It did not respect political powers; it doesn’t respect the military powers of the world,” the 55-year-old Anglican Archbishop said and added in reference to COVID-19, “It has threatened us to the core, but our God is above nature as he is the one who created nature.”
At the Saturday event, Ambassador Dr. Mohamed Mahat, one of the Muslim leaders in attendance read some sections of Holy Quran’s Surah 39 and said the verses he recited had “relevance to this meeting.”
Those who have committed all kinds of sin “and Satan told them that there is no relationship between you and God, because whatever you have committed against God is just (so) much that God has closed his doors to you,” the Muslim leader said, “God is giving hope to everybody and asking them, Don’t follow Satan, my doors are open.”
The heart of God and His mercy are more than any sin, Ambassador Mahat said and called on Kenyans to return to God.
“Let us reconcile and shake hands with God. God is asking all of us but when? Before you enter the coffin? before you die?” the Muslim leader probed and advised, “When you are responsible for yourself you can repent to God. You can talk to hm. God is telling you, don’t waste your time rush back.”
Kenyans had been encouraged to follow the prayers at State House on the major Kenyan television channels, on radio, or online.
The participants at the event made an effort to observe social distancing and having each of those who spoke use a separate microphone.
Other African nations that have declared a National Day of Prayer include Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe among others.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa