, 29 May, 2020 / 5:32 AM
Catholic Bishops in Kenya will be meeting in “coming days” to define a way that will see the lifting of the ban on public worship in the East African country after a successful engagement with the government that took place early this week, ACI Africa has been told in an interview.
Kenyan government officials at the Tuesday, May 26 meeting who included Cabinet Secretaries in charge of Health, Education and Interior and Coordination of National Government asked the Bishops to make proposals on safe re-opening of churches.
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government, Dr. Fred Matiang’i reported the meeting that was held at the Holy Family Basilica in the country’s capital, Nairobi reported on Twitter.
“CS Mutahi Kagwe, Prof. George Magoha and I met with Catholic Bishops' representatives, led by Cardinal John Njue, at the Holy Family Basilica this afternoon as part of Government's stakeholder outreach program as instructed by H.E. President Uhuru Kenyatta,” Dr. Matiang’i tweeted Tuesday, May 26.
He added referencing meetings with other faith-based leaders in Kenya, “I reiterated the Government's commitment to continue working with the church through its leaders as we continue to take measures, and make decisions, with regard to our country’s COVID-19 situation.”
In an interview with ACI Africa a day after the meeting, the Chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) Archbishop Philip Anyolo said that in an array of topics that were discussed between representatives of the Catholic Church leaders in the country and the government officials, the issue of lifting the suspension on public worship emerged.
“We were all in agreement that public worship is one of the essential services in Kenya,” Archbishop Anyolo told ACI Africa Wednesday, May 27 and added, “We talked about the need to slowly, gradually and with a lot of prudence, open churches for public worship. There will be no rush in charting this path.”
While announcing the dusk-to-dawn curfew on March 25, President Uhuru Kenyatta exempted a number of service providers from the curfew, terming them “essential”. These included medical professionals and health workers, national security officers and licensed broadcasters and media houses.
Other essential service providers included licensed pharmacies and drug stores, food dealers, distributors, wholesalers and transporters of farm produce, licensed telecommunication operators and service providers, licensed supermarkets, mini-markets and hypermarkets and licensed banks, financial institutions and payment financial services.
According to the Local Ordinary of Kenya’s Kisumu Archdiocese, however, public worship is also one of the essential services in the country, a necessity for the people of God and needs to be allowed with “a lot of caution.”
“Our churches will need a lot of discipline even as we start to think about allowing public worship. Many parishes in Kenya have more than 2,000 Christians and so we can’t just wake up one day and tell everyone to go to church. We’ll need to be very careful,” the Kenyan-born Prelate said and added, “A lot of preparation will go into this.”
He said that the five Bishops who attended the May 26 meeting resolved to reach out to other Church leaders in a meeting that will see them draft a set of proposals to be presented to government.
“We’ll be meeting in the coming days to come up with a proposal to the government on how we can go about opening churches,” Archbishop Anyolo told ACI Africa.
The May 26 meeting also discussed the role of the Church in the fight against the spread COVID-19, the 64-year-old Archbishop disclosed.
“The Church and the government are partners in mitigating effects of the virus. The government understands the central role of the Church in educating the public,” he said and added, “Africans tend to listen more to issues that are put across in the perspective of faith more than governance.”
“Our role is educating the masses on the dangers of COVID-19. We have to make people understand that the virus is a reality and that it is at a critical stage as cases of infections increase by the day,” Archbishop who is also the Apostolic Administrator of Kenya’s Homabay Diocese further said and continued, “It is an actual doomsday as long as we don’t have any medication or vaccine yet. These are things that our people need to understand.”
Kenya reported a record 123 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, May 27, bringing the total number of infections in the East African country to 1,471 with 55 related deaths and 408 recoveries.
To contain the spread of the virus, the Kenyan government, in March, suspended public worship and ordered closure of schools.
But on May 23, while allocating funds to the education docket to support tutor recruitment as well as the hiring of ICT interns to support digital learning, President Uhuru Kenyatta hinted on re-opening of schools, a decision that has attracted mixed reactions from various groups in the country.
“We will in the very near future be communicating, what plans and programs we have for the education sector. In that regard, we have allocated an additional budget of KES.6.5 billion (US$60 million) to the Ministry of Education,” President Kenyatta said, adding that he was aware of the anxiety that weighed on the minds of parents and their children with regard to when schools will reopen.
Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) Secretary-General Wilson Sossion, however, told local media that schools should only reopen once the disease has been contained.
“Let them resume social programs first before schools. Safety of students and teachers is number one and that is still not guaranteed by hurried opening,” said the teachers’ union boss in Kenya.
Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET), on the other hand, has proposed partial re-opening of schools by June 15 for national examination candidates.
“While these recommendations are drawn from the experiences of other countries, the Ministry of Health should have the final authority on partial re-opening of learning institutions,” said KUPPET Secretary-General, Akelo Misori.
Referencing the contested plans to re-open schools, Archbishop Anyolo said that the government was taking precautions to ensure that the exercise is conducted in a safe manner.
“The government approach to possible re-opening of schools and even suspension of ban on public worship is commendable. They have embraced stakeholder engagement. All concerned stakeholders have been given a proposal to study and to express views before any action is taken,” the Archbishop said, adding that all five Bishops who attended the May 26 meeting walked away with a government proposal towards re-opening of schools.
“We’ll read the proposal and react to it,” he said.
The question of forceful evictions in Nairobi also came up in the meeting, with the Bishops urging the government not to forcefully eject poor Nairobi residents from their homes.
“We all came to an understanding that this is not the right time to pull down people’s houses and to leave hundreds of people homeless; not when the same government is advocating for people to stay in their homes as a measure to contain the spread of the virus,” Bishop Anyolo said.
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