The Church in Garissa Must Continue Sowing Seeds of Faith, even in the Heat of the Desert
“We may not see the fruit of what we are doing here now but in the future, it will bear fruit,” are the words of Rt. Rev. Joseph Alessandro, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Garissa as he speaks to The Seed about the growth of the catholic faith in his diocese.
It is a statement full of hope for the diocese that exists in largely Muslim territory.
Every morning at 5.30 am the call to prayer goes up in several places of worship across Garissa Town. But at 7 am a group of Catholic faithful will be seen walking into Our Lady Consolata cathedral for morning Mass. It is a small community of around 20 faithful that gather for the weekday Masses. You would expect more people for a bustling town such as Garissa, but the low number is not unusual; the area is largely Muslim and Christians are a minority made up of civil servants working in the town.
While many missionaries used schools, health centres, and other projects as a source of reaching out to new converts, the catholic diocese of Garissa exists within a silent rule; the church must not try to convert. However, the community gladly uses the schools, and other social amenities provided by the church. As Bishop Alessandro notes, teaching catechism in some parts of the diocese could easily backfire and create with the evangelization mission in the area.
How then must a church exist in such an environment?
The church in Garissa ministers without necessary conversion. It has found a way of peacefully co-existing and serving in an area where its social services are greatly needed and appreciated.
Evangelizing in the Catholic Diocese of Garissa is also not for the faint of heart; a region of 142,704 Square kilometres served by only seven parishes, which are as big as the counties. The Michael the Archangel Parish in Mandera is the farthest, 800 kilometres from the cathedral and is the only parish in Mandera County. To get there, it is better to travel to Nairobi by road and then to Mandera by flight.
The harsh climatic conditions in the region, high levels of poverty and terrorism attacks have made the region to be classified as a hardship area.
Despite these, it is impressive to witness the strong faith of the Christians, the determination of the priests and the hope of the bishop to keep the church going for the few faithful who find themselves at the peripheries of faith.