By Fredrick Nzwili*
Christians in Africa have joined in ecumenical celebrations and prayer services to mark the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, observed worldwide from 18-25 January.
In Nairobi, church leaders, individuals, ecumenical bodies and representatives of church-related organizations gathered at the All Saints Cathedral for a service under the banner of “International Ecumenical Movement.”
Roman Catholic Bishop Alfred Rotich, chairman of the Commission for Ecumenism at the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops stressed compassion, humility and love as he delivered a sermon at the service held at the Anglican Cathedral.
“We need to build each other so that we can offer unusual hospitality....Love unites naturally,” said Rotich, the bishop of Kericho Diocese. “Real love is coming to a place (home) where people will love without being impressed with you.”
This year’s celebrations are occurring under the theme, “They showed us unusual kindness.” It was chosen by Christians in Malta, an island nation where more than 90 percent are Roman Catholics. The Maltese are using the Bible story of a shipwreck to remind Christians worldwide of kindness, welcome and the bonds of common humanity - the pillars of ecumenism.
According to Rotich, churches and Christians have the mandate to open their doors and receive others because they are made in the image of God.
“They will know we are Christians if we open our doors,” said the bishop.
In an earlier message for the event, Rotich said humility and kindness were two most important values in life and keeping both created a strong bond among Christians. He stressed that Christian unity would be easy to achieve if the churches and denominations embraced kindness and humility.
Rev. Fr Innocent Maganya, a lecturer at Tangaza University College in Nairobi who is the chairperson of International Ecumenical Movement Kenya chapter, in a statement, queried how the churches as part of their ecumenical witness had showed kindness in a world experiencing social, political, economic, and spiritual devastation.
He highlighted that Kenya had received “many strangers” including refugees from Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“As we gather this week…may this activity in itself be a means of demonstrating and promoting that unity before an incredulous world,” said Maganya.
Angeline Okola, programme coordinator of the Nairobi-based World Council of Churches Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network said kindness was a fundamental attribute of humanity that bridged all divides.
“As part of the activities to mark this week, we urge the body of Christ to show this ‘unusual kindness’ towards persons with disabilities through listening, talking and interacting with us. This will enhance our feeling of belonging to the united body of Christ,” said Okola.
The programme has shared resources with participating churches to be used within the order of worship to ensure the places are accessible to persons with disabilities.
*Fredrick Nzwili is a freelance journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.