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Declaration of the Catholic Bishops of Kenya

Declaration of the Catholic Bishops of Kenya
19 April 1991

During 1991, the Bishops did not write any Pastoral Letters, but they produced two messages as fruits of their plenary meetings. This is the first one, released during the ordinary annual meeting of the Bishops' Conference. The message mentions, first of all, the drama of refugee people, particularly from Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia, who flow as refugees to Kenya.

As far as the internal situation in Kenya is concerned, there are some positive signs: the "queuing system" of elections was abolished, forced harambees were banned, and more autonomy was given to the Attorney-General and the Auditor-General. However, there has been no substantial change in the political structures. Abuse in detaining people for political reasons and lack of freedom of expression were still reported. The message does not add anything new to the previous ones except the concern for refugees coming from other countries. This short message is rather the voice of the Church, joined to many other voices in the country at that time, claiming more respect for human rights and freedom.

    Introduction

  1. We, the Catholic Bishops of Kenya, gathered in Plenary Conference from the 16th to the 19th of April 1991, have reflected together on the present condition, both spiritual and material, of our people. Such is indeed our right and our responsibility because our pastoral mission would not be fulfilled unless we "constantly relate the Gospel to the people's actual life, personal and social."[1] This is particularly true now that we are preparing for the forthcoming Synod of Bishops on Africa to be held in 1993. During our meeting we also elected a new Chairman, Executive and Heads of the various departments and commissions of the Kenya Episcopal Conference.

  2. It is our purpose in this declaration to publicly express some of our concerns in a spirit of solidarity with our people and collaboration with our leaders in the common project of building our nation.

  3. The drama of the refugees in Kenya has been one of these concerns during our plenary Assembly. We are aware that this is not an exclusive problem of Kenya, but that Africa, with its five million refugees officially acknowledged, holds the world record by producing 50% of all the refugees of the world.

  4. The Catholic Church is endeavouring, together with other Churches, to form charitable organisations and relief agencies to help our brothers and sisters in distress. We urge all people of goodwill to generously respond to the appeals made on behalf of those who are forced into exile without much or any hope of returning home. May the words of the Lord Jesus find a response in our hearts: "I was a stranger and you made me welcome" (Mt 25:35).

  5. While material relief is necessary, we have to look for the root-causes of this problem if a real solution is to be given to the inhuman situation. It is our conviction that the craving of the poor, the discrimination of persons and groups on account of tribal origin or political views are at the origin of this shameful situation in which Africans are persecuted and exterminated by Africans.

  6. The problems enumerated above should be a source reflection for us in Kenya, because we are neither isolated from nor unaffected by these tensions. They are signs of the time calling us to accept change as an inevitable step toward genuine peace. While we may justifiably be proud of the lack of open military conflict in our country, we must make sure that such conflict never happen here. While we rejoice that certain detainees have been released, we cannot rest until all have been released.

  7. As we said in our last Pastoral Letter of June 20,1990, entitled On the Present Situation in our Country: "What has emerged clear from the public debate on the political system is a general agreement that the present structures have weaknesses that need to be set right." [2]

  8. We thank the government for what it has done to correct the weakness in our present structures, e.g., correcting the issue of queue-voting and forced harambees. The first steps of returning independence to the Attorney-General and Auditor-General have been taken, but they need to be put into law and the Constitution. Also the whole issue of the detainees has not been satisfactorily addressed. Change for the better must be faced no matter how painful it might be.

  9. We want to emphasise that human rights are God-given. As the Catholic Bishops of Africa, in June 1988, said in Lesotho, “Justice is held to be a sacred right of all men and women instituted for us by God himself.” While it is easy to see the results of injustices in our neighbouring countries in the form of refugees, we must also be vigilant in our own country, to guard against such injustices.

  10. In conclusion, we once again appeal for the repeal of the Detention Act and for more freedom of expression. If these measures are taken, we believe that there will be a lessening of fear and anxiety, and we will avoid the evils we see in neighbouring countries, allowing more energy and enthusiasm to be channeled for true development.

  11. To all Kenyans we appeal, once again, to pray for peace, healing and reconciliation. We conclude this Pastoral Letter by invoking the Spirit of God, the soul of the Church and source of our unity, so that, with Mary the Mother of the Redeemer, our Church in Kenya may be also filled with grace and, in all humility, sing the Canticle of Mary: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Saviour ... for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name."[3] We bless you and remain, Yours devotedly in Christ.

Questions for Reflection and Sharing

  1. How can you "relate the Gospel to the people's actual life, personal and social" (Cf. No. 1)?

  2. What do you know about refugees and displaced people in Kenya? What are the root-causes of the refugee drama? What would be the solution?

  3. The Bishops said that there were at that time (1991) "structures that have weaknesses and need to be set right" (Cf. No. 7). Do you think there are still such structures in Kenya today? Can you mention them?

Notes

[1] Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelization Today, No. 29.
[2] Cf. N° 14.
[3] Cf. Lk 1:47-55