Spiritual revolution as rapping priest rocks Church

Catholic Priest Father Paul Ogalo raps on 6th May 2018 at St Monica Rapogi parish during a special mass. [Caleb Kingwara/Standard]

It is 10am and a Mass at St Monica's Catholic Church in Rapogi is packed to capacity.

All eyes are on the pulpit as Father Paul Ogalo preaches his heart out. Dressed in flowing white robes, he paces around the pulpit, microphone at hand.

"With God everything is possible. With God we can conquer drug abuse, food insecurity and diseases," he screams, his towering frame resting on the wooden pulpit.

One hour later, the venue has been transformed into a social gathering. Ogalo is no longer a priest but a musician-cum-comedian.

"Yeah! Yeah! Ah! Ah! Sema na mimi, Mungu anakuita. Kuja karibu, tucheze kwa Mungu... Ah! Ah! Yeah!" he raps as his audience, which includes youths, the elderly and even nuns, goes wild.

The priest is now dressed in black shorts, shirt and red canvas shoes, and has a red bandana tied around his head. Welcome to the unique world of Fr Ogalo, the rapping priest, or ‘Father Masaa’ as his congregation calls him. Others call him Paul SWIT (Sees World In Turmoil).

Ogalo’s style of preaching has shocked and excited his colleagues and Catholic adherents in equal measure. An accomplished karateka, he is using secular music, drama and dance to attract youths to the Church. 

And the 45-year-old priest has no apologies for introducing a new concept in Catholic liturgy. 

“I want to rescue millions of youths who are leaving the Church because we are not taking care of their interests. We want to keep them in the Church. They can sing, rap and dance for Christ as they learn other life-changing strategies," said Ogalo.

Preaching style

The priest, who was ordained in 2000, said he resolved to change his preaching style after a stampede during a concert in Nairobi in 2007 left several people dead.

“One of those who died in the stampede was a young man called Geoffrey Omenda who came from my village in Rapogi. He was an upcoming artist and had gone to have fun in Nairobi. He had sat for his KCSE (Form Four) exams that year and scored an A plain. He died seeking leisure, which we can do inside the Church," said Ogalo.

“When the young men died in the stampede, I held myself and other Kenyans responsible because we had abandoned the youth. I felt guilty and decided to do something. I have never looked back, despite criticism from some quarters," he told The Standard.

After Omenda’s death, Ogalo, who says he has loved music since childhood, began devising ways to lure youths to church. He would sing, dance and teach them karate. Within months, he had become a household name across parishes in southern Nyanza.

He believes the Church must change with the times and preach the gospel using a new approach.

“My style has changed the way youths look at the Church. I know how to balance it. During Mass, we follow the doctrine to the letter. The sermon is solemn and dignified. After this, I change into more social attire. It is time for fun and everyone loves it."

Artistic methods

The priest said the Catholic Church's principles do not oppose the use of music, dance and other artistic methods to preach the gospel because art is a medium of communication.

After rapping, Ogalo sits with the youths to discuss how they can fight social vices such as drug abuse, crime and HIV and Aids. He is also an advocate for environment conservation.

Unknown to many, he is actually assigned to the uniformed and disciplined forces to whom he dispenses spiritual nourishment. He only goes to outpost churches in his free time.

“I am attached to the disciplined forces but I spend most of my time with prisoners. I preach, sing and also dance for them."