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Daily Nation : January 29th 2014
DAILY NATION Wednesday January 29, 2014 coverstory 3 TOM OTIENO | DAILY NATION ABOVE: Holy Ghost Coptic Church of Africa leader Father John Pesa flanked by armed security on a Kisumu street during celebrations to mark the 57th Anniversary of his Church on January 14, 2014. RIGHT: One-shilling coins given as offerings by church members; no member is supposed to give more than a shilling during the Sunday mass. BELOW: Some of the more than 3,000 members of the Holy Ghost Coptic Church in Africa during the march marking the church’s 57th anniversary. President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, who had been sick for a long time, to prove his powers. “They saw that, indeed, I was a true spiritual healer who was using only powers from God,” he says. Thereafter, was taken back to prison, but the president ordered his release. “Later, the president asked that I be taken to him for questioning,” he says, adding that they had a lengthy conversation, although he will not divulge about what, only saying he thanked the president for allowing him to start his church and get it registered. “The president told me that the only way he could help me was get my church registered,” he says. “I did not want to leave the Roman Catholic Church, but the church leaders said I should not be accepted back,” he says. Founded his own church Following his rejection, he founded the Holy Ghost Coptic Church of Africa. “Thereafter, I had a constitution written to guide my church, which had only nine followers at the time.” Father Pesa says that after the formation of his church, there were many complaints from the Coptic Church in Egypt, which demanded that he drop the word “Coptic” from his church’s name. “They brought up several issues stopped me from taking care of the needy and spreading the Gospel. In fact, my followers keep increasing by the day, and to me, that’s a blessing,” he asserts. “I have heard many negative things said about my church, but that won’t stop me from spreading the Gospel to those who want to hear it. The Bible says, ‘He who has ears, let him hear,’” he adds. So how did he become a church leader? “When my healing powers became evident when I was still a Roman Catholic, I was branded a rebel, a pariah and kicked out by the church leadership. He says that in 1957, he was and detained for three years over allegations that he was deceiving Christians. He claims that one day he was taken to heal a relative of founding which were merely intended to bring me down but I remained firm. I even changed the name from Coptic Church in Africa to Coptic Church of Africa but they still wouldn’t leave me alone,” he adds. “After the death of President Kenyatta, I was arrested for having “stolen” a name and my followers became divided. But thanks to the intervention of retired President Daniel arap Moi, I was released and allowed to continue calling my church the Holy Ghost Coptic Church of Africa.” Pope Pesa says that his job leaves him little time for leisure, since he wakes up early and retires late. “I wake up at 4a.m. and take a shower. Thereafter, I take two glasses of water, which is something I must do every morning before talking to anyone. I don’t take tea, so I just go to the prayer room. I talk to my children (flock) up to 1p.m., then I take a lunch break. The rest of the afternoon is dedicated to meeting visitors and at times I get overwhelmed,” he says. Origins of the Coptic Church Coptic Christians are the native Christians of Egypt. As a denomination they originated in the city of Alexandria, one of the most faithful, respected, and fruitful cities during the Apostolic period. Coptic Christians recognise John Mark, (author of the Gospel of Mark), as their founder and first bishop. The Coptic Church was involved in the first major split in the Church, well before there was such a thing as “Roman” Catholicism, and it was also well before the East/West split. Copts rely heavily on the Gospel of Mark and believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. They believe in the resurrection, as well as Christ’s miracles. They believe in the bodily ascension of Christ and that He was the sinless Messiah and will come again to gather the body of believers worldwide and take them to the kingdom of Heaven. The Coptic church also believes in eternal life. Coptic Christians were originally well founded in theology, and other churches in cities throughout the Roman Empire looked up to them with great admiration and respect. The societal strength and control of the Arabs caused the Copts to endure a major language and culture change as well as confront the Islamic faith. Over the centuries, especially after the Arab conquest in themid 10th Century, Christianity lost foothold and most Copts converted to Islam. Today, there is a small population of Coptic Christians remaining in Alexandria, but most are located elsewhere within different states. The current population of the Coptic Church is estimated between 10 million and 60 million worldwide. Theologically, Coptic Christianity is very similar to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. The exact numbers of Coptic Christians is hard to determine because many worship in secrecy for fear of persecution and regular death threats in the more radical regions of the world where they are a minotiry. They profess to be genuine followers of Jesus Christ and a part of His worldwide Church. But, as with Catholicism, they tend to emphasise meritorious works together with liturgical ritual, as key to salvation rather than salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as taught by other Christian denominations. John Pesa’s church is one example of a sect that fuses Pentecostal theology with Catholic ritual, even while including overt symbols of African traditional practice. Father Pesa conducts his services with a combination of high Catholic pageantry and African dance. I have heard many negative things said about my church, but that will not prevent me from spreading the Gospel to those who want to hear it - Father John Pesa Father Pesa is a vegetarian and his food should never be cooked by a woman who is still having her periods because the church forbids it. “The only women allowed to cook for me are those who have reached menopause. If there is none around, a man can do it,” he explains. Father Pesa says his church’s teachings are similar to those of the Catholic Church. Sundays are devoted to masses, and he conducts two. “Whenever we are praying on Sundays, there must be two plainclothes policemen to protect my followers,” he says. The church’s 3.5 million members are Sudan, Central Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Kenya.
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