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Justice and Peace Commission

Justice and Peace Commission

 Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of Kenya

 1 January 1988


The subject matter of this Pastoral Letter is the establishment of a Catholic Justice and Peace Commission at the national level under the responsibility of the Kenya Episcopal Conference. The motivations to establish such a Commission were of different kinds. First of all, the example of Pope Paul VI, who, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, decided by his Motu Proprio, Catholicam Christi Ecclesiam (6 January 1967), to establish the Pontifical Commission Iustitia et Pax. This gave an example of promotoing justice and peace and provided inspiration and support for each local church to establish a similar body in its own social and cultural context, as the Pope intended, according to his Encyclical Letter On Progresss of the Peoples, (1967) No. 5.

The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), founded in Kampala in 1969, followed this same line. At its plenary meeting in Nairobi (1978) the central theme was precisely "Justice and Peace in Africa." The representatives insisted on the need to promote justce and peace. In its plenary meeting of 1981, in Yaounde, the central theme was "Justice and Evangelization in Africa." The Bishops were explicit in inviting all the Bishops' Conferences in Africa to establish Justice and Peace Commissions at the National level. (See SECAM, Justice and Evangelization in Africa, Yaounde - Cameroon, 1981, No. 31).

The Bishops of Kenya appointed, in 1984, an "ad hoc" Committee to study the way the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission should be established and structured. The draft of this Pastoral Letter, after consultation with several difference groups, was carefully studied and amended by the Bishops themselves. This explains why it was ready only four years later, in January 1988.

The social context of Kenya also motivated the Bishops. They realised that injustice was growing, due to both external and internal causes. The gap between the small number of the rich and the great number of the poor was increasing. Political tension since the establishment of the one-party State and the "queuing system" of voting were also matters of concern implicit in this Letter.

  1. God created human beings in his own image and likeness, and called them to a life of happiness and union with Himself, a life which would begin here on earth and be brought to perfection in heaven. He entrusted to them the care of the earth, to develop it and use it in such away that all His children could share equally in his happiness (Gen. 1:26-27).

  2. But God's plan for his creation was thwarted when man chose to follow the temptation of the devil, and turned against God to seek fulfillment in creatures rather than in the creator. Disharmony and misery took the place of order, beauty and love. What was to grow and expand to reveal more of God's own perfection was spoiled, and evil entered into the world (Gen. 3:4-5).

  3. God's own Son, Jesus Christ, became man and took on himself the task of restoring us to God's friendship, and bringing order and peace and love back into the world. He expressed his mission as follows:
    "The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord's year of favour" (Lk. 4:18-19).

    He commissioned his Church to continue this work even after he returned to the Father, and he sent the Holy Spirit to give her strength and guidance in her mission.

  4. The Mission of the Church Towards Justice and Peace

     

  5. The Church in Kenya has participated in this redeeming mission from her earliest days, preaching the good news our reconciliation with God, effecting this reconciliation, through her sacramental ministry, and striving to bring about among all men the coming of the Kingdom of God "a kingdom of truth and life a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace."[1]

  6. The Church has always been aware that God wants this Kingdom to be a reality not only in the life to come but also in this earthly life for, as Christ has told us: "The Kingdom of God has come upon you…. is in the midst of you". (Lk. 11:20; 17:21).

    That is why she has always been so deeply concerned with man's welfare here on earth as well as with his eternal destiny in heaven. Where people were deprived of education she opened up schools for them, even "in the most remote and difficult areas. She brought health and medical care where they were most needed, and was always ready to help in times of hunger, hardship, and work towards the relief of those who were suffering and deprived.

    ''The progressive development of peoples is an object of deep interest and concern to the Church. This is particularly true in the case of those peoples who are trying to escape the ravages of hunger, poverty, epidemic diseases and ignorance; of those who are seeking a larger share in the benefits of civilization and a more active improvement of their human qualities; of those who are consciously striving for fuller growth. With an even clearer awareness, since the Second Vatican council, of the demands imposed by Christ's Gospel in this area, the Church judges it her duty to help all men explore this serious problem in all its dimensions and to impress upon them the need for concerted action at this critical juncture". [2]

  7. The Church remains committed to this God-given mission of human development and of promoting justice, love and peace. Pope Paul VI categorically expressed this as:

    "True to the teaching and example of her divine founder, who cited the preaching of the Gospel to the poor as a sign of his mission, the Church has never failed to foster the human progress of the nations to which she brings faith in Christ."[3]

    The Church however still finds herself in a situation where injustice is all too common, and seems to be growing ever more open and flagrant. In the world at large the gap between the wealthy countries and the poor ones still remains, and is made ever wider by the terms of international trade, by the burden of debt, and by the selfish policies of many wealthy countries and international agencies.

  8. The gap between the rich and poor, between the powerful and the powerless is reflected in our own country. Injustice is growing. A minority of people monopolise the good things of the country while very many are unable to obtain even their basic needs. Unemployment and inadequate housing, the unequal status of women, the disruption of family life due to economic pressures, violation of human rights in detention without trial, the wide spread corruption and abuse of power and privilege in structures that are meant to be of service to the people, the daily record in our newspapers of dishonesty, exploitation, robbery, even murder - all these and many other evils are becoming so prevalent that our universal brotherhood as equally cherished children of the one father, is in danger of being forgotten and ignored.

    ''The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well." [4]

  9. God's Challenge to us in Kenya

     

  10. This situation of growing injustice should not be. We owe so much to God for all His gifts to us in our development as a nation that we should be more faithful to Him. Kenya is such a free and flourishing country, blessed with peace and stability while so many lands are torn with war and strife, and showing such prospects for the future, that very success in so many fields should challenge us to ensure that moral foundation on which it is built remains sound and strong. Only in this way can we give practical expression of our gratitude for God's blessings, and continue to hope that He will be with us in the future.

  11. The Church gladly takes up this challenge in partnership with all men of good will, and is anxious to play its part in working towards the vision of a just and happy society that God has given us, and that is so well expressed in our President's call to "Peace, Love and Unity." [5] For this reason the Bishops of Kenya are hereby setting up a Justice and Peace Commission as an organ of the Episcopal conference. Through this organ they hope that the Church will be better able to fulfill the mission Christ has given her of promoting our human as well as our spiritual development, and making the Kingdom of God a living reality among us.

  12. Objectives of Justice and Peace Commission

     

  13. The main objectives of this Commission will be:

    1. To develop programmes for the education of people towards a stronger sense of justice. These programmes should be directed firstly towards making individuals more conscious of requirements of justice in their own lives and then go on to study how the principles of justice can be applied to the attitudes and structures of the wider society in which we live: First step is a necessary preliminary to the second, because without a real effort by the individual members of a community to practise justice towards each other it is very unlikely that the ideals of social justice within the community can be developed.

    2. To guide and coordinate pastoral action on fostering justice and peace within the Church, and in the social, economic and political life of the country. For this the social teachings of the Church should be made available by the Commission in a simple format, and in a language that people can understand easily; and all the media of communication should be used to make them known as widely as possible so that the can inspire people to action.

    3. To work for the eradication of injustice wherever it is seen to exist, for instance: the question of land distribution, violation of human rights, unfair practices in Agriculture, education, health, media, tourism, housing and habitat etc. Here it should be noted that complex situations of injustice can have not only religious and spiritual implications, but also anthropological, cultural, legal, economic or political dimensions. For this reason it may often be necessary for the Commission to enlist the aid of experts in these fields for adequate analysis and action.

    4. To give advice, encouragement and support to all those involved in the promotion of justice and in opposition to injustice. This is especially necessary where the poor and those without influence are involved, Sometimes people suffer silently either because they are afraid of the consequences of protest or because they do not know what action can be taken in their circumstances. In such cases they should be assured of the support of the Commission, and all relevant information about procedures etc., should be provided so that their situations can be improved.

     

  14. In the fulfillment of these objectives, the Church must always be prompted by the Spirit of Charity and reconciliation and must be careful to witness to justice in her own internal life and activities. To safeguard her commitment to justice she must be diligent in gathering accurate information in individual cases lest she runs the risk of being unjust in accusing others of injustice.

  15. Conclusion

     

  16. The task at hand is so enormous that it can best be tackled in cooperation with other institutions and people working for human rights. In the spirit of collaboration and Ecumenism, the Commission (where necessary) will therefore, work with other Christians and all people of good will.

    The members of the Episcopal Conference of Kenya call on God to bless this undertaking and we also call upon personnel involved to fulfill their obligations with courage, prudence and determination. We appeal to all Christians and peace-loving people to seek justice and peace for the progress of our country Kenya.

    1. How had the Church been committed to justice and peace "from her earliest days" in Kenya (Cf. No. 4-5)? What new approach is then brought by a Justice and Peace Commission now?

    2. How would you describe the role of a Diocesan or Parish Justice and Peace Commission?

    3. How could Small Christian Communities be committed to the promotion of Justice and Peace?

    4. The Justice and Peace Commission has organised since 1988 a National Lenten Campaign every year. Have you actively participated in it? How do you evaluate it?
  17. We bless you and remain Yours devotedly in Christ

    Rt. Rev. Ndingi Mwana 'a Nzeki, Chairman K.E.C., Bishop of Nakuru
    H.E. Maurice Cardinal Otunga, Archbishop of Nairobi
    Rt. Rev. Silas S. Njiru, Vice Chairman K.E.C., Bishop of Meru
    Rt. Rev. W. Dunne, Bishop of Kitui
    Rt. Rev. T. Mugendi, Bishop of Kisii
    Rt. Rev. J. Njenga, Bishop of Eldoret
    Rt. Rev. P. Sulumeti , Bishop of Kakamega
    Rt. Rev. U. Kioko, Bishop of Machakos
    Rt. Rev. C. Davies, Bishop of Ngong
    Rt. Rev. J. Mahon , Bishop of Lodwar
    Rt. Rev. Z. Okoth, Bishop of Kisumu
    Rt. Rev. N. Kirima, Bishop of Mombasa
    Rt. Rev. A. Ravasi, Bishop of Marsabit
    Rt. Rev. P. Kairo, Bishop of Murang'a
    Rt. Rev. P. Darmanin , Bishop of Garissa
    Rt. Rev. J. Njue, Bishop of Embu
    Rt. Rev. L. Atundo, Bishop of Bungoma
    Msgr. Vaccari, Diocese of Nyeri

    Notes

    [1] Feast of Christ the King - Missal Preface
    [2]Pope Paul VI Populorum Progressio No. 1
    [3]Populorum Progressio No. 12.
    [4]Vatican II Documents: The Church in the Modern World No. 1
    [5]Nyayo Philosophy

     

    Questions for Reflection and Sharing