A deadly clash in Migori two months ago saw eight people killed and several others injured as the factions led by Pope Raphael Adika and Pope Lawrence Kalulu fought over the control of the church headquarters.
On Monday, Principal Magistrate Lester Simiyu ordered the closure of the church in Siaya for 30 days pending investigations by the police.
"For public order, tranquility and preservation of life, the respondents, their agents, followers, or through whosoever, are restrained from entering or congregating at Legio Maria Church situated on land Siaya/Nyajuok/1950 for 30 days," stated the order.
According to County Police Commander Francis Kooli, the police sought court orders to help unravel what is causing the conflict between the groups led by Adika and Kalulu, who are both claiming ownership of the church.
When The Standard visited the church yesterday, the compound was already deserted.
A yellow flag hoisted atop a tree and a huge wooden cross welcome you to the disputed church. The once maintained-compound is now littered with tree leaves and grass.
Houses that used to host "patients" have been left unattended, with some locked while others have their doors falling off.
The once-sacred shrine has now become a battlefield and a hideout for criminals as it remains unguarded.
Elias Ng’ong’a, a former priest who served at the church for over 20 years, says the church experienced peace until some four months ago.
"The division we are witnessing now has been caused by a few converts who are serving selfish interests and not God," says Ng’ong’a.
Last month, barely two weeks after running battles between the two groups at the church’s main headquarters in Got Kwer, a meeting to resolve the wrangles between the two factions in Siaya aborted.
According to a member of the church who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak on behalf of the church, many people are fast losing hope in the church because of the incessant leadership wrangles.
During last month’s meeting at the county police commander’s office, Adika's and Kalulu’s factions were represented by the Archbishop of Siaya Diocese Andrew Otipa and the Archbishop of Kisumu Diocese Michael Oboge, respectively.
Yesterday, Otipa maintained the Adika-led faction was registered, has a title deed, known trustees and leadership structure.
Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter
“Those who have rebelled know who the pope is and the founder of the church. We know that all the two factions have followers, but the other group cannot claim ownership of the church yet they only have four missions,” claimed Otipa.
Call for peace
He asked the rival faction to join them, noting that they should not divide the church along tribal lines.
While confirming receipt of the court order, Kalulu’s faction, however, called for peace and patience, saying the matter was still in court.
“As church leaders, our main work is to ensure there is peace and room for negotiation. We are therefore not going to follow a group that has little regard for peace,” said Oboge.
In April, the High Court in Migori dropped the leadership wrangle case following the death of Pope Ong’ombe, one of the contenders.
Ong'ombe died before resolving the leadership wrangles in the church and the installation of his deputy, Kalulu, to take over the papacy has ignited a fresh leadership row in the already divided church.
In what rekindled the protracted antagonism in the church, Kisumu-based cleric and leader of a splinter faction, Adika filed a fresh petition at the High Court in Migori challenging Kalulu's appointment as Ong’ombe's successor.
The initial move was welcomed by faithful allied to Ong’ombe who said the decision would provide an atmosphere for reuniting the once divided church.
But in a sudden twist of events, Adika termed Kalulu's installation as the new pope as “an insult to the church’s standing and efforts to pacify the divided church that is wallowing in divisions”.
During his controversial installation in May, Kalulu, a long-serving deputy of On’gombe, called for an end to the wrangles and extended an olive branch to the rival faction.