Fresh divisions have again rocked the Legio Maria church after a section of followers rejected a purported “handshake” between leaders of two warring factions who have not been seeing eye to eye for over a decade.
Legio Maria, an indigenous African church popular in some parts of Nyanza and Western regions has had two leaders, both claiming to be the bona fide popes of the church – Pope Romanus Ong’ombe and Pope Raphael Adika.
Any meeting of followers of the two rival leaders has always resulted in a bloody confrontation, and not even a court ruling has ever brought peace between them.
Pope Ong’ombe and his followers have their headquarters in Got Kwer in Migori County while Pope Adika is based in Kisumu.
The wrangling came to an end last Tuesday when the two rivals met at St Michael’s Mapera Church in Migori and decided to bury the hatchet after Pope Ong’ombe extended an olive branch to Pope Adika.
They told the congregation present that their prolonged differences were hampering the progression of the church.
But the followers are vexed with the newly-found unity, claiming they do not know the details of the agreement, and that they have been left confused.
The church’s Cardinal Johanes Opanya Mirao welcomed the “ceasefire” terming it a good move to unite the followers.
But he was angry that he was not aware of the planned reconciliation meeting.
“I am asking both factions to worship like they have always done in their respective churches until we have a clear understanding of their newly-found unity,” said Cardinal Opanya.
He stated that the mistrust between the rival groups is still too strong and that the two leaders need to come clear on what the deal is about.
A section of the followers is saying that the vagueness of the deal has cast doubts on the flock, whom they say are withholding giving their offerings because they are not aware about where they are being channelled to.
They questioned how the church will be managed with duplicate offices in dioceses across the country.
“We have been left hanging because we were not included in this decision. We do not know who the pope is now following the handshake because they did not even tell us who stepped down,” said Cardinal Awala Chamalengo who is also an administrator in Pope Ong’ombe’s camp.
Cardinal Chamalengo said was even more perplexed because he had been with Pope Ong’ombe a day before he went for the “handshake” and he never mentioned to him about his planned talks with the rival camp.
He said he only learnt about it in the media.
Cardinal Thaddeus Ochieng who is in charge of prayers in Kenya is totally opposed to the merger.
“I am against this because our pope never involved us. He left his inner circle like cardinals and went to the handshake meeting all by himself. I will not be part of this,” said Cardinal Ochieng.
Legio Maria church was formed by Simeo Melkio Ondetto in 1962.
Mr Ondetto died in 1992, prompting some of his followers to camp by his graveside for days, hoping, unsuccessfully, that he would resurrect.
In an excerpt published in the Dictionary of African Biography, Mathew Kustenbauder observed that Legio Maria grew rapidly among Africans largely due to the charisma of another founder, the late Gaudencia Aoko, and the fact that Ondeto had been imprisoned by the colonial government for “holding illegal meetings” with people considered as pagans.