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Kenyan Catholic Activists, Religious Leaders Want Churches Opened for Easter Celebrations

The interior of the Holy Family Cathedral in Kenya's Nairobi Archdiocese.

Hope for this year’s Easter celebrations for a section of Kenyans crashed on Sunday, March 28 when their respective places of worship remained closed for a second time in adherence to the presidential directives of last Friday.

The March 26 guidelines that were issued by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, bringing public worship in a number of Catholic Diocese in the country to a sudden halt, were received with heavy hearts especially by Christians who were upbeat about the 2021 Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter after missing the celebrations last year.

Anne Kioko, a Catholic social activist at CitizenGo, an organization that works “to ensure that those in power respect human dignity and individuals’ rights,” for instance, finds it especially baffling that churches are on the list of places that will remain closed despite their members’ attempt to adhere to safety protocols.

“I find the suspension of religious gatherings and closure of churches totally uncalled for. The church is actually one place you are sure to be safest in terms of COVID-19 infections compared to other places,” Ms. Kioko tells ACI Africa in an interview Monday, March 29.

She says that since Kenya’s Interfaith Council on COVID-19 was constituted last June to guide the resumption of public worship amid the lockdown, there has been order in various places of worship in the country, with members of each denomination adhering to the set protocols.

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The Nairobi-based activist also finds it baffling that while churches remain closed, other places such as markets and public service vehicles continue to operate in total disregard of the COVID-19 guidelines.

Ms. Kioko has launched a petition in the country, rallying for signatures to push authorities to allow church gatherings ahead of Easter celebrations.

“We missed Easter last year. We can’t afford to miss coming together again this year. It is too much. We appeal to the government to at least allow us to gather for the Holy week (and Easter),” she says, making reference to her petition to President Kenyatta titled, “Open churches and restore regulated physical worship during Easter.”

In the petition, she maintains that the President announced the closure of churches “during a period that is very important to Christians.”

“The President banned all physical worship despite chaotic industries like the buses, open markets, supermarkets being left operational,” the Kenyan-born activist says.

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She adds, “This will mean that Christians will not be able to attend services during the Holy Week and the very important Easter Triduum. They will thus not partake holy communion in such a crucial season in the church calendar.”

The ban, she says, goes against the right to religious freedom of many Christians who have been following guidelines to attend physical worship.

“With this petition, we demand that the President of Kenya reinstates regulated physical worship, especially during Easter,” she asserts.

In the interview with ACI Africa, Ms. Kioko calls upon Religious leaders in the country not to give up in fighting for the reopening of places of worship.

“The silence of our Religious leaders is perplexing. One wonders whether or not they were involved in the closure of churches this time round. If they were not, it is time they stood up to speak the voice of the suffering civilians,” she told ACI Africa March 29.

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The CitizenGo activist says that closure of churches in Kenya has once more cast a dark shadow on worship in the country.

“People don’t know what to do any more. It was a very dull Palm Sunday yesterday,” she says, and adds, sharing her own experience, “Today, I passed by Holy Family Basilica (in Kenya’s capital Nairobi) to try and get some palm branches. I fear that I am missing the experience of the Holy Week and Easter.”

Her sentiments are echoed by the of Linda Vijana Initiative (LVI) founder, Catherine Njore who foresees families losing moral direction with the closure of churches.

“It doesn’t help that families are not praying together. If we all prayed in our families, this closure of churches wouldn’t affect us this much,” Ms. Njore tells ACI Africa in the Monday, March 29 interview.

As for the closure of worship places, the Kenyan-born Pro-Lifer fears that the country is “putting God aside in an attempt to stay safe.”

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“We can’t afford to put God aside if we wish to win this war,” she says, adding that she is set to go for the way of the cross, whether the churches will be open or not.

“I went on the way of the Cross last year alone. I will do the same this year. I urge families to take personal prayers very seriously as places of worship remain closed,” says Ms. Njore.

Meanwhile, a Minister of the Pentecostal Evangelistic Fellowship of Africa (PEFA) in Nairobi has, in a widely circulated “letter to President Uhuru Kenyatta,” called on Kenya’s Head of State not to “lump” churches together with social joints in the new lockdown.

According to Bishop Peter Ambuko, the Kenyan government has continued to treat the church in the country poorly despite its gains in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

“Since the churches reopened, we have religiously followed guidelines as directed by the Interfaith council for national response to coronavirus pandemic. As a result, we don’t have cases of transmission traced back to churches,” Bishop Ambuko says in the video.

He adds in reference to the March 26 Presidential address, “We as religious leaders were surprised to learn that churches have been lumped together with bars and they have been closed. Mr. President, I believe this is lack of respect for the churches and even more, contempt for the same.”

The PEFA Bishop laments that poor civilians in the country have, for long, endured the suffering that was brought about by the COVID-19 lockdown, a period he says politicians went about to enrich themselves.

“Last years, when this pandemic started, we joined you and endured the lockdown for more than four months because we wanted to fight this virus and eliminate it. We endured job losses, businesses were closed, our livelihoods were taken away from us in the hope that everything would go back to normal,” Bishop Ambuko laments.

He adds, “But as soon as the curve started to flatten, we thought that our lives would resume back to normal. Then you Mr. President and your brother Raila restarted the BBI reggae. And you started together will your followers to crisscross the country in utter disregard to the laid down corona protocols, which your government had put in place.”

He blames the reported rise in COVID-19 infections in the country on politicians who, he says, travelled all over the country in big rallies.

“Let me put it to you plainly, it is these careless actions by you the politicians, that has made the rallies to become the super spreaders of this virus,” the Religious leader says in his video message.

He urges the government to allow public worship, noting that the church has in the past been helpful in government projects such as registration of voters and campaigns for vaccination against a number of ailments in the country.

“Don’t you think that if you do the same with the COVID-19 vaccination and testing, you would yield the same results?” He poses, and adds, “The Church can become your ally or your enemy. The choice is yours. But as things turn out now, you have treated the church with contempt.”

The Prelate further calls on President Kenyatta to desist from misleading voices, saying, “Don’t listen to people who don’t fear God; people who keep inciting you against the Church. Open the churches and let the church help you in the fight against this pandemic.”