Kenya’s ‘true church’ annoys mainstream Catholic leaders
Legio Maria members do many things that Catholics do, except they claim to do them a whole lot better – and this annoying mainstream Catholic leaders.
Said Geofrey Omondi, a catechist of the Nyatike Catholic church in Migori:
This is worrying because leaders from this church (Legio Maria) have their own selfish agendas, which they achieve by making people believe that they have power to heal and provide solutions.
Founded in the early 1960s by Catholics who claim to to have received regular visits from the Virgin Mary, Legio Maria members believe they have received special messages about the reincarnation of Jesus as an African. Often, they deify the sect co-founder Simeo Ondeto, a catechist who died in 1992.
The sect’s “cardinal”, Raphael Midigo said:
We, as the followers of Legio Maria, believe that Messiah Ondeto is the Christ and resurrected to heaven with God. We are only waiting for his third coming to take his faithful to heaven.
Members of Legio Maria pray and speak in tongues or profess prowess in performing miracles, which drives some local Catholics to choose the sect and abandon the main Catholic Church, which
has expelled Legio Maria members, saying they were practicing “illegitimate” exorcisms and other rituals.
In its early days, it had around 90,000 members, mostly Catholics from the Luo tribe. Today, the sect claims around 4.3 million members in Kenya, Sudan and beyond.
In Kenya, they take orders from their “pope”, Romanus Ongombe, above. They also claim to have 58 cardinals throughout the country.
We are the true church, not the Catholic. We experience the power and work of the Holy Spirit, which cannot be found in the Catholic Church. That’s the reason why people are coming to Legio Maria church and leaving Catholicism. We have a huge following.
Many local Catholics said they remain confused, years after the formation of the sect. Legio Maria conducts the same types of services as the Catholic Church. Its members sing hymns. They have what they describe as a traditional Latin mass. They recite the rosary and even have nuns.
Said Peter Ogola, a member of the sect who left the Catholic Church in May after he said he saw the image of Mary and baby Jesus engraved on a rock in the area.
We are sometimes confused to decide which church to go. Both churches look the same in the way they conduct their services. But Legio Maria church does it differently. They have the power to solve problems through prophesy and miracles.
Local Catholic leaders say the church confuses and lies to congregants. Said Omondi:
They have been lying to people who are seeking divine intervention in their lives, (telling them) that they are the official Catholic Church. That’s a pure a lie.
But Msgr Nicholas Moses Omollo, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Kisumu, said he does not see the sect as a threat.
We have had a lot of converts from them coming back to Catholic Church again. How can they be a threat to us, and we are the ones who expelled them from the Roman Catholic Church?
They are not original, because what they have comes from the Roman Catholic Church.
Kenyans’ cultural attachment to witchcraft has lured them to churches where visions, dreams and superstitious beliefs are explained in religious terms by church elders, said retired Bishop Elvis Otiendo of the Pentecostal Church of Kenya.
It will be suicidal for the Catholic Church to ignore the influence of the African church which has strong roots in western Kenya. They are telling people and their followers what they want to hear. The Catholic Church should start educating their followers about the values of the church and what they stand for as a church.