“Fasting until death to meet Jesus” was the program imposed on his followers by Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, Kenyan pastor of the sect “International Church of the Good News.”
This program was followed closely by all except the sect's guru between April 23 and May 10, 2023. On the latter date, more than 133 bodies, mostly minors, were exhumed from the mass grave discovered in the Shakahola forest by Kenyan authorities.
Of the 30 autopsies performed on the bodies found, most people appear to have died of starvation, except the case of at least two children, who died from asphyxiation, not lack of food.
Paul Nthenge Mackenzi, now charged with terrorism, was once a taxi driver: a job considered unprofitable for the man who decided to become a pastor then a tele-evangelist in 2003. Over the years, his increasingly radical preaching earned him repeated arrests.
In a statement released in the wake of the macabre discovery, the Kenya Bishops' Conference strongly condemned the collective suicide: “(This pastor's preaching) constitutes a heretical teaching which should normally have given rise to corresponding disciplinary measures by the religious family to which he belongs,” the bishops stated.
The Kenyan Prelates also want “a speedy investigation into the circumstances that led to the heinous act that led gullible Kenyans to their untimely deaths.”
The episcopate further deplores that “so-called prophets and cult leaders” exploit their innocent followers with impunity stating that these people “lost money, property, and now their lives,” and warning the faithful to be on their guard against “the hold of all these leaders on their followers whom they make believe that they are always right and that they hold the exclusive truth.”
The Conference of Bishops finally calls on the State to “review the laws in order to guarantee that these dishonest pastors are unmasked in time and that they do not have the possibility of perpetuating their dangerous acts.”
It is an episcopal reaction burdened with several shortcomings. On the one hand, they forget that Protestantism multiplies with individuals, and that most of the time there is no “religious family” to watch over them.
On the other hand, the Church possesses religious truth and she alone. Certainly, the priest is not infallible by himself, nor the bishop. But we must not diminish Catholic truth in order to condemn the fanatical excesses of sects.
Finally, civil society is not the only one that needs to be vigilant in order to regulate the some four thousand sects that exist in this African country alone. Because for more than half a century, many churchmen – in the name of an ambiguous religious freedom stemming from Vatican II – have not always known how to remind their faithful of the immutable and salvific truths of the Catholic Faith.