, 12 June, 2020 / 11:00 PM
The newly constituted Inter-faith Council with the mandate to guide the resumption of public worship in Kenya will be headed by Archbishop Anthony Muheria of Kenya’s Nyeri Archdiocese, the Kenyan government announced in a Gazette notice Friday, June 12.
“Pursuant to the Presidential Directive issued during the 8th State Address on the Coronavirus Pandemic delivered on 6th June, 2020; it is notified for the general information of the public that the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Co-ordination of National Government and the Cabinet Secretary for Health do jointly appoint The Inter-Faith Council,” the Kenyan Government stated in the Gazette notice that announced the appointment of Archbishop Muheria as Chairperson of a 15-member Council alongside three Joint Secretaries.
Answerable to Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta “through the National and County Government Co-ordinating Summit” and headquartered at the Ministry of Interior and Co-ordination of National Government in Nairobi, the Archbishop Muheria-led Council has been tasked with developing six protocols that can guide the resumption of public worship in the East African nation.
The Council, which has two other Catholic Bishops as members is expected to develop strict “protocols for the phased reopening of the places of worship; guidelines towards the gradual and progressive resumption of in-person congregational worship that adheres to physical and social distancing guidelines; and protocols for the celebration of weddings and other religious ceremonies in the Places of Worship in ways compliant with physical and social distancing guidelines (and) protocols for religious funerals and gravesites/crematoria last rites and send-off.”
Developing “protocols for the religious funerals and gravesides/crematoria last rites and send-off (and) a program for public sensitization and capacity-building of all religious leaders and clergy on the protocols” will be part of the undertakings of the Council in which Bishop John Oballa of the Catholic diocese of Ngong and Bishop Joseph Obanyi of the Catholic diocese of Kakamega are members.
The Inter-Faith Council that has been authorized to bring on board “other persons as may be required to assist in the discharge of its functions” is also expected to “develop a prioritized implementation matrix, clearly stating the dates for re-opening” as well as indicate the number of worshippers that can gather in the various places of worship.
The team that has members drawn from other religious entities including the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK), the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM), the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) among others can also “conduct any other matter” that is related to the six “Terms of Reference.”
“The mandate of the Council shall lapse on 31st December, 2020; but may be extended” at President Kenyatta’s discretion.
The Joint constitution of the Inter-Faith Council by Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government, Dr. Fred Matiang’i and his counterpart in the Ministry of Health, Mutahi Kagwe comes days after President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the Cabinet Secretaries to establish the inter-faith council.
The Government of Kenya ordered the closure of all places of worship in March as one of the measures to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 after the first case had been reported March 13.
In May, Kenyan government officials and representatives of the Catholic Bishops in the country held a meeting to discuss the possibility of reopening churches for public worship.
“We were all in agreement that public worship is one of the essential services in Kenya,” Archbishop Philip Anyolo who is the Chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) told ACI Africa.
“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,” he added.
A Kenyan-born Catholic activist has been spearheading an online campaign for the resumption of public worship in Kenya.
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