URBANIZATION: Is the Church Abetting Inequality?
By Julius Coredo | February 12th 2017
Pope Francis was in Kenya in November 2015. His message to all of us during the Eucharistic celebration held at St Joseph the Worker Catholic Church in Kangemi, a low-income neighbourhood in Nairobi, was: 'Uphold urban integration and build inclusive cities'.
A spiritual leader is concerned about the life of the downtrodden in the society is actually a no-brainer.
Equally, that there is a relationship between the church and cities is a humdrum observation. The Pope, however, offered an enriching perspective to the social and spiritual phenomena that cities are.
The Urban theory is replete with evidence of shrines and temples in ancient urban sites that pointed to well-developed power structures that put the religious elite in control of surplus produce from the city economy.
The separation between the privileged and the deprived in the cityscape is perhaps as old as urban settlements.
Jotham, the son of Uzziah, the bible says, built cities in the mountains of Judah, and in the forests he built castles and towers (II Chronicles, 27:4).
The rich, it appears, have always lived in the leafy suburbs. Every church today is a reflection of the socio-economic identity of its congregation.
One congregation is building a 30-million shilling's worth of a castle for its priest, and across the ridge, on the other side of ‘Judah’, a slum settlement has a tin-walled shack for the visiting clergy! Men of clothe scramble to be in-charge of wealthier neighbouhoods.
Luigi Guissani, in Why the Church, explains that the ‘Church’ is sociologically ‘the people of God’ and ontologically, ‘the mysterious body of Christ’.
Why should the same body bear a flourishing muscular arm while entertaining a rotten toe and still claim to be healthy? The incidental question perhaps is, is the church abetting inequality?
I think the Pope invited both the religious and political leaders to work together towards building just and sustainable urban futures.
He observed that slums offered other urban communities celestial lessons on the community since their living spaces are less commoditised. The exigencies of poverty and exclusion, however, demand urgent responses to restore the dignity of their inhabitants.
Through his life, Pope Francis has demonstrated that internal practices in the Church can be re-jigged to reflect a new commitment to a more just and equitable society.
In righting the wrongs that the ‘hidden hand’ that controls urban spatial configuration has committed, the Church should also look inwardly.
Beyond complementing the provisions of basic services to the slum residents, which is commendable, what in the matrix of the Church’s relationship with the state and its officers, perpetuates inequality?
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