“Do not slip into being an NGO”: Pope’s Representative to Religious in Kenya

Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya and South Sudan, Archbishop Bert van Megen addressing guests during Golden Jubilee of the Religious Superiors Conference of Kenya (RSCK) in Nairobi on October 8, 2019
Credit: ACI Africa

In a country where structures have been put in place to enable the government of the day to provide for its citizens the needed services including health and education, members of religious orders and societies of apostolic life have been cautioned against the temptation to become Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).

“The Holy Father says of the Church and religious congregations that we have to be careful that we do not slip into being an NGO that we only speak of structures and services,” Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya and South Sudan Archbishop Hubertus van Megen said Tuesday, October 8 during the 50th anniversary of the Religious Superiors Conference of Kenya (RSCK).

“However good they (structures and services) might be, at the end of the day it's all about the cornerstone on which our life is built; on Christ himself and from there everything becomes and returns,” Archbishop van Megen explained.

In an interview with ACI Africa on the sidelines of RSCK jubilee celebration, the Nuncio clarified the temptation on the part of religious orders to become NGOs saying, “There is a tendency at times not only to take over language, which is used within the NGO world but also the thinking.”

In this case, he continued, “there is a temptation to become a functional society which up to a certain point loses its Christian identity and Christian inspiration.”

In an earlier interview with ACI Africa, the Executive Secretary of RSCK Br. Julias Ouma Awino (BSJ) seemed to confirm the temptation religious and missionaries experience in their respective ministries.

“It is challenging in people taking time to accept the word of God,” Br. Awino said and explained, “When (people) see missionaries, they first want material things like money … as we go to these places, we have to carry something that these people can benefit from.”

RSCK Chairman Fr. Paul Sila, OFM Cap. confirmed to ACI Africa about the involvement of religious orders in infrastructural development in Kenya saying, “You find that missionaries have been at the forefront of building schools and hospitals as well as development in the Kenyan society.”

He expressed appreciation for the efforts missionaries have made in providing for the material needs of the people they minister among saying that as RSCK celebrates 50 years in Kenya, the members have “uplifted the lives of so many people in the society.” 

At the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis urged Church leaders across the globe to keep their Christian identity prioritizing gospel values through a close relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.

“We can build so many things but if we don’t confess Jesus Christ, then something is wrong. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the spouse of Christ,” Pope Francis was quoted as saying on March 14, 2013, Catholic News Agency reported.


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
[email protected]