African Religion: Legio Maria

In 1963, two Roman Catholic faithfuls’ known as Simeo Ondeto (a catechist) and Gaudencia Aoko, both from the Luo ethnic community in Kenya, made claims of having undergone mystical experiences that were almost prophetic. The duo claimed that the mystical experiences invested divine authority on them and directed them to shun traditional healing practices, soothsayers, and divine healers. These claims by Simeo and Gaudencia led to their excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church; as a result of this, the two formed their own Church-a new Christian religious movement known as Legio Maria translated as the Legion of Mary.

In its first year of establishment the Legio Maria church had garnered roughly 90,000 members mostly from the Luo ethnic community from both Catholic and non-catholic setup. Interestingly enough, Legio Maria adherents thought of Simeo Ondeto as a re-incarnation of Jesus and referred to him as “Baba Messiah.”A few years following its establishment, the Legio Maria barred women from the church’s priesthood which led to fallout with Gaudencia Aoko who ended up forming her own church taking some members along with her.

In the ensuing years following the fall out with Gaudencia Aoko and some of its members, the Legio Maria church regained ground and extended its following from the rural setup whence it began to urban centers and ultimately to neighboring countries. In the onset of the 21st century, Legio Maria was the largest African Independent Church (AIC) with Catholic roots, with a following of roughly three million adherents.

The Legio Maria church offers free healing through prayer and exorcism of evil spirits. The church places an emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit and incorporates acts like speaking in tongues as key aspects of its practice. Even though the church practices the Latin mass its sermons are held in vernacular. The Legio Maria church is against consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and dancing for leisure. Incidentally, The Church is against traditional and western forms of medicine, it is also against the practice of polygamy.

As earlier mentioned The Legio Maria church reveres its founder Simeo Ondeto and places his portrait and that of his mother on the altar next to that of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. The Church’s governance system is similar to that of the Roman catholic church whose hierarchy begins at the top with the pope as its head.

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