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Kenyan Parish Counting Losses as Eight Small Christian Communities Vanish in Demolitions

Displaced people at Mukuru kwa Njenga, slum served by St. Mary's Catholic Church in Kenya's Archdiocese of Nairobi. Credit: Fr. John Munjuri

The October 11 government demolitions at Nairobi’s Mukuru kwa Njenga slum, which is served by St. Mary’s Mukuru Parish of the Archdiocese of Nairobi (ADN) found Grace (not her real name) singing at a spiritual recollection that the Catholic Parish was conducting.

Grace’s neighbor motioned her out of the choir group that was singing outside the Church and told her that government bulldozers were approaching her house in the demolitions. Grace was told to rush back home to save some of her belongings before her house was pulled down.

That was the last time the rest of the choir group saw Grace, Fr. John Munjuri, the Parish Priest of St. Mary’s Mukuru Parish told ACI Africa in an interview.

Credit: Fr. John Munjuri, CSSp., Kenya

Grace is not the only member of the 25-year-old Catholic Parish that went missing in the wake of the demolitions that have left thousands of slum residents homeless. 

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In the Wednesday, November 24 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Munjuri said that the Catholic Parish alone has lost eight Small Christian Communities (SCCs) and hundreds of active parishioners.

“We are very worried because there are many parishioners we can’t account for. They just disappeared when their houses were pulled down and we don’t know where most of them are. Eight of our Jumuiyas (SCCs) just disappeared overnight,” Fr. Munjuri said.

Credit: Fr. John Munjuri, CSSp., Kenya

The member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) said that the disappearance of the eight SCCs had cast a dark shadow on the once vibrant Catholic Parish of ADN.

“The spirit of the remaining Church members is very low. There is no life anymore in our Sunday Masses. Some of the people who disappeared are those who brought life to the Church by their singing in Church and participating in other liturgical activities,” Fr. Munjuri said.

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The demolitions, the Kenyan-born Spiritan Priest said, has also hurt the spirit of the Holy Ghost Fathers (Spiritans) whose mission at the slum Parish is to take care of the poorest of the poor.

Credit: Fr. John Munjuri, CSSp., Kenya

“Our Congregation has always taken preferential treatment for the poor. They are the people we came to serve. Seeing them being stripped of their dignity and being kicked away without being given the alternative of where to stay really makes us sad,” Fr. Munjuri said.

He added that some of the people who were displaced in the slum demolitions were active members of Matthew 25, a charity group of healthcare givers, counsellors, and volunteers that combs the informal settlement in search of the neediest cases and enrolls them for support.

The team has been especially active during the COVID-19 pandemic that stripped slum residents of their sources of income and left the sick and elderly even more vulnerable.

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Credit: Fr. John Munjuri, CSSp., Kenya

Fr. Munjuri found it disheartening that those who had worked selflessly to reach out to the needy had been made dependent.

This, the Parish Priest of St. Mary’s Mukuru Parish said, had put a strain on the Catholic Church’s meagre resources.

“It is completely disheartening that volunteers who worked selflessly at Matthew 25 are now relying on others for survival. This means that the needs of the charity group have more than tripled. Our counselling department has also been stretched to unbearable limits,” he said.

Credit: Fr. John Munjuri, CSSp., Kenya

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For days, thousands of people looked on as bulldozers snaked their way through the huge chunk of the slum, turning the simple structures that were made of corrugated iron sheets, wood and mud into rubble and leaving hundreds of families displaced.

Fr. Munjuri recalls that the Kenyan “heavily armed authorities” who guarded the bulldozers were harsh on the slum residents and told them that they were not wanted anywhere near the government property.

“The people were chased away by heavily armed authorities and most of them just disappeared. They went to places they could not be seen by the police. I walk around and see some camping outside people’s houses. Recently, an NGO came and pitched tents on the rubble. But this is just temporary relief to the displaced,” the Spiritan Priest narrated. 

Credit: Fr. John Munjuri, CSSp., Kenya

He said that the homeless people who have spent weeks on the streets are undergoing unimaginable difficulties including hunger and illnesses because of exposure to the cold.

Additionally, cases of rape and prostitution have increased in these open places, Fr. Munjuri says, and adds, “The other day, I spoke to a 61-year-old man who told me that he had been sodomized. The rape cases are on the rise and victims are women, children and even men.”

“Women who never engaged in prostitution are now forced to do it. They are doing it for little favors such as a meal. The situation is really dire,” he narrates.

Credit: Fr. John Munjuri, CSSp., Kenya

The Catholic Priest says that Matthew 25 has also witnessed a rise in mental cases such as depression as parents spent days and nights on the streets unable to send their children to school.

The few remaining houses in the slum have also witnessed extreme congestion as families take in friends who were displaced in the demolitions. 

Fr. Munjuri says that house owners in neighborhoods that have not been affected by the demolitions have also taken advantage of the huge demand for housing to hike rent rates.

Credit: Fr. John Munjuri, CSSp., Kenya

“Even before demolition, there was contestation in the slum as most houses are single-room structures housing complete families. Today, it is common to find up to 10 people staying in a room that housed five people,” the Spiritan Priest says.

He adds, “The houses have also become so expensive because demand shot up. A house that was KES 1,000.00 (US$10.00) now goes for KES 4,000.00 (US$40). This is way outside what most slum residents can afford.”

Because of the congestion, sanitation at Mukuru kwa Njenga slum has deteriorated, Fr. Munjuri says, and adds, “The toilets can’t serve everyone. And taking a bath is a luxury.”

Credit: Fr. John Munjuri, CSSp., Kenya

Providing an update on St. Mary’s Mukuru Parish, which was partly demolished, Fr. Munjuri says, “We are doing some repairs but the Church has been reduced significantly. Our land was terribly squeezed after the demolitions.”

The Catholic Parish leadership is also facilitating the construction of toilets for the community and has converted part of the Parish premises into a shelter for some of the vulnerable people that were left homeless.  

Fr. Munjuri’s message to the people who were displaced by the demolitions is, “Do not lose hope wherever you are. We pray that someday, you will regain your lives and your dignity.”

Credit: Fr. John Munjuri, CSSp., Kenya

“As a Church, we will always be there for you,” the Spiritan Priest says, and appeals to members of the eight SCCs that cannot be accounted for, “Please, come back to us. Your lives still matter. You can still dream. Allow yourselves to feel the love of God through well-wishers who will come your way.”