In light of the recent university massacre, a Kenyan bishop has called on the international community to speak up against Christian persecutions worldwide, and on his own people to be tolerant and not to overreact to wrongdoings.
In an interview with ZENIT this morning in Rome, Bishop Maurice Muhatia Makumba of Nakuru, the Chairman of the Commission for Education and Religious Education of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, made these appeals.
On April 2, the Al-Shabaab militant group stormed the campus of Garissa University, and massacred 148 Christians, mostly students. The world has condemned the attacks and the Pope has expressed his condolences.
This morning, Bishop Makumba not only reflected on the current situation of Christians in Kenya and their security, but also discussed the controversial closing of refugee camps and why addressing the security considerations in the nation need to maintain a delicate balance.
In addition, the African bishop spoke on the bishops’ meeting yesterday with Pope Francis and His Holiness’ candid recommendations.
ZENIT: First if you could speak a little about the current situation of Christians in Kenya, and perhaps a bit about their state of mind and spirits?
Bishop Makumba: Currently, we are undergoing a situation of constant distress in the country over the situation of what happened, the massacre of these young people at the university college. It’s really very, very sad, especially when you come to know that they were killed because of their faith, because of their Christian faith. When these criminals entered the college of the university, they separated the Christians from the Muslims and they just massacred the Christians. It is not like it was done with a grenade or something like that; it was a shooting at close range. So you can imagine that some of them will never be identified because their bodies are in pieces. So it’s been very, very sad, but we are appealing to our people to be tolerant. In spite of this provocation, somebody is trying to push or force a certain agenda, trying to provoke a religious conflict in Kenya. This is what we believe. But we don’t want to take the bait. We don’t want a situation whereby we are putting the Muslims against the Christians because we believe these are criminals and we need to take them like that. I don’t think all Muslims are bad people. There are people who are radicalized. They are trying to make it appear as though all Muslims are bad people and I don’t believe that. We are dealing with criminals. They should be treated as criminals. We shouldn’t allow them to push us into conflict, religious conflict between Christians and Muslims. So we keep urging our people and appeal to them to be tolerant and to take upon themselves a spirit of Christ of love and love everybody, even their enemies.
ZENIT: Could you speak a little about your role in Kenya in education, and would you have said that students had felt secure or insecure before the event. Do you feel they are secure?
Bishop Makumba: As the Chairman for the Commission for Education and Religious Education of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, I can say we have been concerned generally about the state of security in the whole country. And when you are dealing with terrorists, you just don’t know where they are going to strike next. They know what they are going to do, but the rest of us are kept guessing…They have chosen various locations, unexpected recently, where they took many lives, and also had done so where people were working, and this time it was instead a university. Again, we are dealing with terrorists. We are dealing with people who have a twisted way of understanding things about solutions to human problems […] They think they can solve things using violence.
However, having said that, I think the last we would do as the people of Kenya would be to give up, to give up on ourselves, on anything. Because development and society would come to a standstill and we would live in fear. And that’s what the terrorists want. They want to afflict fear in the people so that nothing moves forward in society, so that there’s no school going on, no development.
The area is that is very affected in Kenyan is the northern part which is majority Muslim. So that’s where massacres generally take place in the recent past, in the last few months. So it’s as though somebody wishes to push a certain group of people out, so that only another group remains themselves. Again, we are dealing with criminals. But again, I insist we are dealing with criminals. This is not the generally thinking of the Muslim community. I believe that Muslim community is a peaceful community, but someone is taking advantage of religion to do things that are atrocious and will never move toward a solution. So we encourage our students and indeed everybody in Kenya and tell them that security is a concern of all of us, and it begins with me. I have to do everything within my power to keep my country secure. Yes, the government has its role to play. It has to enhance intelligence gathering, perhaps do a bit more policing, but I believe the community has a bigger role to play in ensuring that our country is secure. I encourage the students and the people in the schools not to be afraid, be alert, and above all not to be provoked to do things they should not do.
ZENIT: Is there something you feel the international community or some other entity should be doing?
Bishop Makumba: Yes, I think so. I think in the last few months or perhaps past year or so, I think the international community should be a little bit more forthright in its condemnation of Christian discrimination, or discrimination against Christians in the world, especially the Muslim world. This is going on and one feels that there is a certain silence that is a bit uncomfortable. People shouldn’t be afraid to call a spade a spade.
There are tragedies being carried out in the world today, and I don’t think we should be silent about it out of fear that if we speak out, something worse will happen. I think the international community first and foremost should speak for justice, justice for everybody, that Christians should respect Muslims and Muslims should respect Christians and any other religions. We must be tolerant of each other. If my country is majority Muslim and I am a Muslim, I have an obligation to respect the minority, and vice versa. The fact that we are a majority in a particular country could easily tempt us to look down upon those who are the minority. I think this, on the international scene, needs to come out more forcefully, and believe leaders should speak on it, about real human values. We cannot connect ourselves to God, when we don’t have respect for each other, for our brothers and sisters. I personally feel the international community is a bit silent and the silence is uncomfortable because these criminals will cheat you and are killing Christians. But once they are through with Christians, they’ll turn against each other again because they are never satisfied because a terrorist is a terrorist. Whether it is a Christian terrorist, a Muslim terrorist, we should speak against crime. I do not believe the international community has done that enough. The voice must be loud.
ZENIT: Do you believe closure of the camps would lead to more security? What would you say the view is among your fellow bishops?
Bishop Makumba: In a situation like ours people try to look for … solutions, because there is a situation of panic, people are dying, don’t know what to do. So closing camps has been proposed as one way of finding a solution, making our country secure, and so on. The only danger with that is there are many innocent people in the camps. Yes, there could be criminals there too, but there are als
o many innocent there, with no place to go, for that is exactly why they are there. You might be solving one problem, but creating a bigger one, which leads to a vicious cycle. If people have no place to go, with no place to call home, they could turn to crime, which could lead to other problems. Leaders are looking to find a solution. [..] We need to think through our proposals so they do not become unfair, unjust, especially for the innocent people […] We have a security situation in the country, that they are going to close the camps due to possible security threats, so I understand that, but from the humanitarian point of view, we must realize that this closure doesn’t unfairly put at a disadvantage the innocent.
ZENIT: Last question, yesterday, you and your fellow bishops met with the Holy Father, could you reflect a bit on that experience?
Bishop Makumba: To meet the Holy Father personally was a moment full of emotion. Looking at the simplicity with which he received us, it was so cordial and the conversation and interaction we had with him was more than just being our superior, our boss, but was more having a friendly conversation, with this gentleman, if I may say so [Smiling]. It was a very friendly interaction. He said to us, ‘Let us speak freely,’ ‘Even if it is me … Criticize me,’ he said. He was so open. It was that kind of moment. I was so happy to meet him for the first time since he became Pope. I had met Saint Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict. Now, finally, I met Pope Francis. This has always been for me a very moving experience to have that personal contact, moment, relationship, and you go away energized and strengthened in my faith in my diocese, renewed in spirit and in strength. I have more enthusiasm. It was so moving and now we can go back strengthened and renewed to carry out our work in our dioceses.