Me and the Catholics

So yesterday I found myself doing something I have only done a very few times in my life, and not just once either but twice in one day! What was it? Saying grace before a meal, in this case both lunch and dinner.

Religion is very important in Kenya and there are many faiths and denominations vying for business, so to speak. On the plus side it’s a great way to organise people and gives them a sense of belonging and community. It also provides some fantastic music and some of the singing I have heard on my travels is beautiful. On the downside there is all the usual stuff; abuse of power, children, vulnerable people and corruption. Bit like a government, eh?

Anyway anyway, the voluntary work I am doing is supported by the Catholic Church and even if it wasn’t I dare say the children would be taken to church on a Sunday anyway. So housemother asked one of them to say grace before lunch yesterday and I duly mumbled an ‘Amen’ along with the kids. I mean, I’m not religious per se, but I AM grateful for the food provided so at least that bit is true. Then in the evening we had invited our friend Jo to see the elephants being put to bed and as she was staying with her friend Doug, he invited us to dinner afterwards, at his guesthouse. At his Catholic Guesthouse. Where priests passing through Nairobi can come and get a bed and a meal. Not fancy but not shabby neither, it’s on the same road as the Vatican Embassy so fairly private. And they also have some sort of educational institution and not one but two chapels (greedy!). Anyway anyway, there were 5 or 6 old men (Catholic priests) who were in for dinner, all American and all delighted to meet Alfie of course. The meal was great and very tasty despite its boarding school appearance, and alcohol was served, though sparingly. The boarding school appearance was helped by the meal whizzing along, to such an extent I was still helping myself to salad while the old gent next to me was tucking into his chocolate cake. Ah well, they have a lot of reading and praying to do before bed, don’t they?
So that was lovely and my second grace of the day; in fact they did one after the meal too but I was busy with Alfie on the other side of the room by that time (and I’m fairly sure everyone had finished by then…) so I didn’t hear what they said that time either.

And I got to thinking. It strikes me that there is something slightly out of kilter with all these religious organisations out here, ‘doing good’ for the people. Many and varied as they are (lots of Americans) and not forgetting the great missionary traditions of the African continent, of course they do do a lot of good and help a lot of very needy people. But isn’t the Catholic Church, for example, one of the richest organisations in the world? I mean, couldn’t they just sell even a quarter of the Vatican treasures and REALLY make a difference, once and for all? Isn’t it a bit odd that these rich and prosperous organisations are happy to pepper the land with their do-gooding flock but are not so quick to put their hands in their pockets? Their considerably well-lined and, in many cases, well-pilfered-in-the-first-place pockets.

I don’t know. Just a thought.

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