The soothing breeze swept sweat from the faces of reporters as they eagerly awaited the start of one of the day’s biggest events.
They were invited to attend the inauguration of a 15 billion shillings student hostel project next to the Catholic University of East Africa (CUEA) in Nairobi earlier this year.
To kick off, several canvas men dedicated the site.
This investment, said one of the priests, his voice rising above the hum of the excavator, was how human beings continued God’s work of creation.
The Catholic Church, through the Kenya Catholic Bishops’ Conference, donated the land for the construction of the student village, Karen.
The hostel complex would also have a gym, cafe, hospital, playground and other amenities.
The construction of the hostel is just one of millions of investments in which the Roman Catholic Church, one of the richest and most powerful religious organizations in the world, has been involved recently, even as the flow of tithes, offerings and gifts is reduced to a trickle.
Official data shows that nearly a fifth of Christians, or 9,726,169 Kenyans, say they are affiliated with the Catholic Church.
The church has amassed a treasure trove of assets amounting to hundreds of billions.
The reach of the church has extended to almost every sector, from health, education, agriculture, real estate, finance and insurance.
The Catholic Church – and by extension all religious groups – believes that investments such as the 15 billion shillings youth hostel project are guaranteed by God.
Nairobi Archdiocese financial administrator Father Simon Ng’ang’a said retired Cardinal John Njue, who resigned earlier this year when he reached compulsory retirement age 75-year-old had helped create 2.8 billion shillings in investment for the church during his 14 years. year of reign.
This included Cardinal Otunga Plaza in Nairobi’s central business district built for Sh916 million.
The church also spent 419 million shillings on a nursing home for its clergy.
Unfortunately, some of these assets have become a bitter pill for the church.
They are credited with opening the ugly wounds of denial of colonial rights and tarnishing the piety of the church, with some accusing it of illegal acquisition of wealth.
They have also been at the center of embarrassing legal battles as the clergy fight for their control.
Traditionally, the main source of funding for the church has been offerings, tithes, and donations.
The donations were particularly critical for the Catholic Church, which has long emphasized the idea that good works can save sinners from purgatory.
As a result, the wealthy throughout the medieval ages aggressively bought graces from the Pope, a trend that infuriated the German Catholic priest, the late Martin Luther.
The German priests would then cause a split in the Catholic Church. This was called the Protestant Reformation – a religious reform movement that swept across Europe in the 1500s, resulting in the creation of a branch of Christianity called Protestantism.
The majority of Kenyans are Protestants. To this day, devout Catholics around the world continue to give generously to the church.
These funds are, in turn, funneled into projects, such as the Church Inn Project, whose exorbitant costs, some people believe, deplore the evangelical mission of the church.
George Njenga, vice-chancellor of the University of Strathmore, who also sits on the advisory board of the Catholic bank Caritas Microfinance Bank, said the number of people sending financial aid to Africa has declined due to the crisis economic in Europe.
âFor a long time we have been dependent as a mission, and still are to a large extent, on funding from international religious NGOs and religious organizations,â said Dr Njenga.
He also advises Pacis Insurance, owned by Catholic bishops.
Njenga said his job is to wean the clergy from dependence on church funds and introduce them to the business community. While churches are meant to operate as non-profit entities, some of their business services can seem prohibitive.
For example, students will pay between 18,000 and 20,000 shillings per month for hostel accommodation which is due to be completed by the end of next year.
If you add a tuition fee of around Sh 72,000 for an undergraduate student at CUEA next door, it will cost you up to Sh 152,000 per semester.
The church believes that this model can be compared to the fable of Robin Hood who stole from the rich to give to the poor, only the church does not steal. According to Charles Kanjama, a lawyer and devout Catholic, the surplus the church derives from high university tuition fees is offered in the form of scholarships to poor students.
The money is also being pumped into mission schools and hospitals, which have played a vital role in providing education and medicine to millions of poor families.
A 10-minute drive from CUEA in the city center is the imposing facade of the Minor Basilica of the Holy Family.
It is the seat of the Archdiocese of Nairobi. Here, the Chinese have just completed the construction of one of the largest underground parking lots in the city center. Built in 1904, the church was Nairobi’s first stone building. But now, this architectural antiquity is also the expression of modernity.
Motorists are charged 100 shillings for the first two hours of parking their car in these underground parking silos. An additional hour attracts an additional Sh100.
Nearby is also the Place Cardinal Otunga, a building belonging to the diocese, which in addition to providing offices to the diocese is rented to the public.
By relying on donations from abroad, the church was able to offer various services at low cost. This was the case with most mission hospitals like St Mary’s Hospital in Lang’ata.
“You will find that they offer education or health care at lower prices than their counterparts in private hospitals or schools,” said city lawyer Charles Kanjama, noting that this was not possible. only thanks to donations, but also because the church was able to save on inputs, such as the salaries of nuns and priests.
However, Kanjama explained, there is a model where the church could charge at market rates.
“But because it is a charity, what would otherwise be a profit (but is now known as a surplus) is used to do good.”
He gives the example of Strathmore College, which offers massive scholarships that the public might not know about.
âThe money from the parking silo is used to run so many charitable activities and things that the Catholic Archdiocese manages,â Kanjama explained, noting that this is the most sustainable model.
It is a famous maxim among history students that Kenya was mastered using both a pistol and a Bible, a kind of carrot and stick tactic, the former being used by missionaries while the latter by the colonialists.
British colonialists forced Africans into bondage and crowded those who resisted “civilization” into prisons.
Missionaries also built schools and hospitals to rid Africans of the double scourge of ignorance and disease.
Colonialists and missionaries occupied arable land in the ancient White Mountains that stretched from the foothills of Mount Kenya to the escarpments of the Rift Valley.
Godfrey Muriuku in his historical account of the Kikuyu noted that while the government was busy subduing the Kikuyu by force and establishing British rule and European settlers were busy taking land for colonization, another incursion as well important took place: that of the Church.
Ultimately, it was the Roman Catholic Church that formed Kikuyuland’s largest sphere of influence at the end of 1903.
However, it was the Scottish Industrial Mission for East Africa, which operated until 1898 in Kibwezi, that became loved by the Kikuyu when they established their camp at Baraniki near Dagoretti.
With famine and disease plaguing the country, the arrival of the Scottish missionaries was particularly timely. Missionaries played a notable role in organizing famine relief and caring for the sick.
âBoth acts have earned them a good reputation, lasting recognition and auspiciousness for their evangelistic endeavor,â Prof. Muriuki said in his analysis.
When the country gained independence, most of the white settlers sold their land to the natives and left.
However, the property belonging to the church, especially the Catholic Church, although not managed by the whites, never really left the grip of the church.
To this day, the Catholic Church retains some of Kenya’s most valuable land, most notably in the Karen suburb of Nairobi.
These assets have been both a blessing and a curse for the church.
The Ndung’u Land Report, officially known as the Commission of Inquiry into the Illegal / Irregular Allocation of Public Land, also showed how the Catholic Church benefited from 1,040 acres, which it took. purchased at 13 shillings per acre.
Other churches also involved include the African Inland Church (AIC), which was awarded 3,851 acres; as well as the Methodist Church, which has been accused of illegally cutting 40.47 acres in Meru on which it has established Methodist University.
The Catholic Mission Consolata has also been singled out for the displacement of Kenyans from their land at Tigoni in Kiambu County, a situation which culminated in the Lari massacre.
The 11-year legal dispute over control of two Kenyan hospitals, including St Mary’s Mission Hospital, between Assumption Sisters of Nairobi and former Maryknoll priest William Fryda has misrepresented the Catholic Church.
Even the Vatican Bank, where all of the church’s contributions are banked, has had its fair share of scandals, with the Pope at one point sending the entire board to make claims for irregularities.