Being Catholic in Nairobi, Kenya
Q: What are African Catholic women facing in the African culture that makes it a challenge for them to be faithful to Jesus?
A: In most instances African Catholic women must figure out how to balance between our Christian and African traditions so that we can make the right choice when it comes to discerning God’s will over the practice of our cultural tradition. Most Christians will practice a certain percentage of their ethnic practices and a certain percentage of their Christian faith. Christians often date to marry culturally first then go to the church for a Christian wedding way after they have been staying together. The normal expectations are that the young girl has the blessings from her parents to move into the man’s homestead.
In normal circumstances, a bride will have part or all her dowry paid under the customary laws, once a few visits are done, the bride and groom will start to cohabit. This is a decision sometimes that the couple makes and other times the in-laws mostly brides will put in such strict traditional measures on the couple that they delay in taking the Sacrament of marriage since they do not have parental consent. Eventually the couple with start to live together since the parental blessing may be a long way off.
This then becomes a challenge because the “couple” that was previously headed towards a sacramental marriage will delay indefinitely. They start living in “sin” saying that traditionally they are married. On another hand, one spouse may be willing to receive the sacraments while the other may be opposed to it. Not because they don’t understand but they will often say “you know I have gone to your parents and paid dowry, everyone knows that you are my wife traditionally, what more is there to do?” As a Catholic, this is so disheartening especially to the spouse who understands their faith because they feel disconnected from their faith since they cannot participate in the very heart of the church.
Sometimes if the couple has stayed together for a long time without the Sacrament of marriage the priest may give dispensation to the spouse who has shown commitment to the faith and it is only the spouse who is opposed to the Sacrament, eventually, through God’s grace, the couple may receive the sacrament. The greatest joy for the couple is to be united in a Christian marriage.
Our culture is a beautiful thing. The customs are meant to unite both families and a new relationship. They are meant to last. The traditions are not meant to separate us from the Love of God nor create a barrier to our growth as Christians. Faith and our lovely customs can work in unison if we can have deep self-examination of how we understand our faith and whether our Love for God goes deeper than our traditional practices.
Miriam Maina lives in Nairobi, Kenya with her husband and five children and leads an Endow group. She is passionate about her Catholic faith and bringing the message of the feminine genius to the women of Africa.