Legio Maria feud: Followers reject ‘handshake’ between rival Popes
Fresh divisions have rocked the Legio Maria church after a section of followers rejected a purported ‘handshake’ between leaders of two warring factions.
The factions have not been seeing eye to eye for over a decade.
Legio Maria, an indigenous African church popular in in Nyanza and Western regions, has had two leaders both claiming to be the bonafide Popes of the church.
The two are 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 headquarter in Got Kwer in Migori county while Pope Adika has his in Kisumu.
The wrangling came to an end on Tuesday when the two rivals met at St Michael Mapera Church in Migori. They 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 church’s progress.
But the followers are vexed with the new found unity, claiming they do not know the details of the agreement.
Cardinal Johanes Opanya Mirao welcomed the ‘cease fire’ terming it a good move to unite the follower, but 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 strong and that the two leaders need to come clear on what the deal is about.
They claim the vagueness of the deal has seen the flock withholding offerings because they do not know where they are being channeled.
They questioned how the church will be managed with double 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 is 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 was even more perplexed because he had been with Pope Ong’ombe a day before he went for the ‘handshake’ and he never mentioned a word to him on his planned talks with the rival camp
Cardinal Thaddeus Ochieng, who is in charge of prayers in Kenya, is also opposed to the merger.
“I am against this because our Pope never even 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 initial founder, Ondeto had been imprisoned by colonial government for ‘holding illegal meetings’ by people considered pagans.