Rev. Innocent Halerimana Maganya—chairman of the International Ecumenical Movement-Kenya Chapter—spoke as church leaders, persons with disabilities, ecumenical bodies, and representatives of church organizations gathered for an ecumenical service for the celebrations at the Holy Rosary Roman Catholic in Ridge Ways in Nairobi, on 21 January.
“There are quite a number of injustices that are committed against the most vulnerable of our society. Churches need to stand up and together defend the poor so that justice may be done,” Maganya said. “As much as we recommend the charitable work of the church at the service of the most vulnerable, churches are invited to unite to defend the weak of our society whose justice is often denied.”
“Do good, seek justice,” the global theme of this year’s celebrations, found resonance among the Christians who gathered for the service.
The ecumenical celebrations that started in 1908 are marked worldwide annually from 18-25 January, between the feasts of St Peter and St Paul. The World Council of Churches (WCC) and Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, each year assign a country to prepare a prayer for the celebrations.
This year, the Minnesota Council of Churches in the USA prepared the material for celebrations. Past historical injustices, segregation, discrimination, and inequalities reportedly inspired the choice of the theme.
“America is still struggling and the wounds of the past are not yet healed. The church is very much a part of this history. The murder of George Floyd reminded the world how racial discrimination is still part of American society,” said Maganya. “But these ills do not concern the American society only. We all feel concerned and challenged in our attitudes…”
In Africa, the celebrations are moving to the grassroots, according to the priest, reaching the area where most Christians live. In these areas, the denominations are forming joint groups to discuss their unity and issues of common interest. For example, the groups are working jointly to aid people in communities suffering food shortages.
Archbishop Makarios Tillyrides of the Greek Orthodox Church of Kenya, said poverty as a consequence of human dominance went beyond “financial poverty” to include poor weather, poor environment, and poor natural yields. According to the leader, poor understanding of the will of God, poor concern and responsibility towards each other and nature were also part of the list.
“The weak are not only limited to those who are struggling with dietary wellness or systemic marginalization, but also those physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and socially challenged,” said Tillyrides in a sermon.
Anjeline Okola, programme coordinator of the Nairobi-based WCC Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network said systematic injustices threatened the unity of the churches and that of the human family.
“This injustice is witnessed when we erect walls that further marginalize persons with disabilities within our Christian communities,” said Okola. “The prayers this week urge us to reflect theologically on how to break these walls.”