Kenya, The Catholic Church in
KENYA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
A temperate, humid, agricultural country located in equatorial East Africa, the Republic of Kenya is bordered on the southeast by the Indian Ocean, on the south by Tanzania, on the west by uganda, on the north by ethiopia,
on the northeast by sudan and on the east by somalia. A former British crown colony, Kenya was granted extensive internal autonomy in 1960, following years of ethnic unrest and bloodshed. It achieved independence as a Commonwealth nation on Dec. 12, 1963. With a landscape that ranges from mountain peaks to arid plains to coastal lowlands, Kenya is noted for its wildlife and its rivers. Coffee and tea are among the country's main exports. While natural resources in the region include veins of gold, rubies and garnets, Kenya's economic growth is founded primarily on agriculture, as well as the manufacture of small consumer goods, agricultural processing, cement and tourism. Kenyans are primarily a tribal people representing Kikuyu, Luhya, Luo, Kamba, Kisii, Kalenjin, Meru and other African peoples. The life expectancy for an adult Kenyan male was under 47 years in 2000.
Church History. In Kenya's Great Rift Valley some of the earliest hominid fossil remains have been discovered by paleontologists. Arabs settled the region in the 7th century, remaining near the Kenyan coast to allow for trade. Portuguese traders appeared along that same coastal region from 1498 onward, but systematic Christian evangelization of Kenya's native peoples— predominately the Masaii and Kikuyu, who entered the region in the mid-18th century— was begun by Protestant missionaries in 1844. This Protestant influence increased after 1887 when Kenya fell under the control of the British East Africa Company. The holy ghost fathers entered the region from Tanganyika in 1892, and Kenya became subject to the Prefecture Apostolic of Zanzibar (vicariate in 1906). The consolata missionary Fathers came in 1902, the mill hill missionaries in 1904 and st. patrick's missionary society in 1953. Native apathy, language difficulties and Muslim influences in the country's coastal areas presented formidable obstacles to evangelization efforts, but Catholicism grew, especially through its promotion of education.
In 1920 Kenya became a British crown colony. Improved by railways to enhance trade, portions of the country were set apart for the exclusive habitation of the many British who immigrated to Africa. Ultimately native Kenyans, let by nationalist leader Jomo Kenyatta, demanded
equal representation in government, as well as a dismantling of the social constructs separating the races. This rising nationalism led to the Mau Mau movement of the 1950s, during which time many African Christians were killed. Even during World War II and the Mau Mau terrorism, Church efforts among Kenyan natives continued, and conversions, particularly among the Kikuyu, increased. Providing the continued opportunity for Kenyans to receive a basic education certainly ranked among the most praiseworthy charitable efforts of the Kenyan Catholic Church during the 20th century.
In 1953 the Church hierarchy was established, and Nairobi, the capital, became the seat of an archdiocese and metropolitan see for the country. At the time of Kenya's independence in 1963 about 10 percent of the inhabitants were Muslims, 20 percent were Christians (including 820,000 Protestants) and the rest practiced indigenous beliefs that sometimes incorporated Christian elements.
Kenyatta, who served as the first president of the new republic, died in 1978, and Daniel arap Moi succeeded to power. Unpopular, inefficient and corrupt, Moi's government sparked further unrest and a failed coup attempt before he agreed to elections in 1991. His continued victory in multiparty elections held during the 1990s did nothing to stabilize Kenyan politics, and ethnic violence continued. In 1998 the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi was bombed, leaving numerous victims; the Church played an active role in alleviating the suffering that followed this tragedy. Despite the government corruption throughout the country, Kenya's Catholic Church leaders continued to speak out against poverty, ethnic prejudice and other social issues that threatened the quality of life in Kenya into the 21st century. Among the most vocal of these leaders were Archbishop of Nairobi Raphael Ndingi Mwana a' Nzeki and Father John Kaiser, a Mill Hill Missionary. Father Kaiser was murdered in August of 2000, his death believed to be a consequence of his outspoken
attacks against the government; investigations into his death were continually stalled by the police.
Despite the controversy surrounding his administration, Moi advocated many social policies in line with Catholic doctrine. For example, in 1996 he prohibited the teaching of sex education in Kenyan schools. While the government continued to respect religious freedom, it actively restricted some non-worship activities of the Church. In April of 2000 police broke up a gathering of Catholics in a Laikipia Church on the grounds that the participants were suspected freedom fighters. Ecumenical efforts by the Church in Kenya included the creation of the Inter-Faith Peace Movement, bringing together Muslims, Catholics, Hindus and Protestants; despite such efforts, clashes between Muslims and Christian sects were
reported throughout the 1990s, and in 1996 a basilica in Nairobi was desecrated by fundamentalist Christians.
By 2000 Kenya had 607 parishes tended by 860 secular and 877 religious priests, 609 brothers and 3,773 sisters. Over 220,000 baptisms were performed in the country during 1999.
Bibliography: k. ingham, A History of East Africa (London 1962). r. oliver, The Missionary Factor in East Africa (London 1952). Bilan du Monde 2:545–551. Annuario Pontificio has annual data on all dioceses, vicariates and prefectures. For additional bibliography, see africa.
[j. j. o'meara/eds.]