Social Media, Collaborative Networks to the Rescue
At the beginning of March 2021 things seemed to be looking up for Kenya; there was reportedly a decline in Covid-19 infections, vaccines had arrived in the country, there was ease on restrictions on socializing, and the president had in the previous few months lifted the ban on intercounty travel .
In fact on March 6, the Interfaith Council, that had been guiding the phased re-opening of places of worship, moved to phase three of the guidelines, allowing more people to attend in person worship and increasing the duration for worship to up to 180 minutes.
Consequently, the Catholic Diocese of Malindi prepared for a grand episcopal ordination and installation of Monsignor Willybard Kitogho Lagho as its third Bishop on March 19, 2021. According to the plans, the outdoor event was to be held at the Bishop Francis Baldacchino Primary School Grounds that would easily accommodate over 4,000 guests, with the recommended 1.5 meters social distancing space. By the evening of March 17 the tents were up, a new dais had been erected, and sanitization and hand washing points put in place ready for the event. Guests were expected from all over the country especially Mombasa, the home diocese of the bishop-elect and the place where he previously worked as Vicar General and chairman of the Coastal Interfaith Council of Clerics.
On the eve of the arrival of the bishop-elect, a call came from the Kilifi Deputy County Commissioner (DCC) and the County Commander referring to the presidential address on the Coronavirus pandemic of Friday March 12 2021, in which President Uhuru Kenyatta prohibited political and large social gatherings and limited religious gatherings to one third of venue capacity. The new restrictions superseded the earlier one by the Interfaith Council.
The organizing committee had to adopt changes to the consecration ceremony: the venue moved from Bishop Francis Baldacchino Primary School Grounds to St. Anthony’s Cathedral Malindi, limiting the attendance to only 600 people.
It then became a decision on who should be allowed to attend the event, and how to get the information to the others to keep away. The faithful would learn of the changes through social media in a message sent out by the Very Rev. Fr Albert Buijs, Diocesan Administrator through the parish priests, to the small Christian communities and different groups within the Church.
The social media allowed the communication to spread instantly to the 18 parishes and 5 missions of the diocese spread in an area of 34,000km2, pointing to the importance of embracing technology for collaborative networks across the dioceses.
A lesson to learn from the Catholic Diocese of Malindi is that the pandemic is going to push and test our adaptability to changing situations. The guidelines from the Interfaith Council could be reviewed from time to time, and we will be called upon to adjust our expectations and plans, and to do so gracefully. The performance by the churches in complying with the protocols set by the Interfaith Council on Covid-19 has so far been commendable.
The church has to remain vigilant as we go through the third wave of the pandemic that has taken a serious toll on the economy and claimed the lives of Kenyans.