The Catholic Church in Kenya suspended a priest from leading mass for one year for using rap to preach the gospel and attract youth.
Rev. Paul Ogalo of St. Monica Church, known to his fans as Paul SWIT (Sees World In Turmoil) or Father Masaa, became a viral sensation after someone posted a video online of him rapping the gospel message while wearing a red bandana and his white priestly robes. Ogalo used the medium of rap to communicate the gospel in a way he said would be attractive and entertaining to Kenyan youth, but Catholic leadership in Kenya objected to the mix of church teaching with what they saw as secular entertainment, and ultimately suspended Ogalo from preaching. (RELATED: Pope Cleans House In Chile, Boots Five Bishops)
“It is true the church has taken a disciplinary measure against him. He is suspended because the use of rap music in preaching is not allowed,” said Bishop Anyolo, according to Nairobi News.
Church leadership clarified that Ogalo was not banned from attending mass, but had been barred from preaching for a time to “reconsider his manner of preaching.”
Ogalo said he used the medium of rap to reach younger Kenyans and to attract people to the church who otherwise might not have considered coming or listening to the church’s teachings and services. Ogalo’s use of rap was, in his eyes, a missionary effort.
“Usually, I do this thing separately. Liturgy remains liturgy. And then talks and entertainment remain separate, so that I attract young people to come to church,” Ogalo said, according to The Washington Post. “I use that as bait to bring them to church, and then we catechize them and make them productive citizens of the nation, members of the Catholic Church. That’s my mission.”
Ogalo’s methods paid off. Nuns danced as he rapped. Teenage boys and older women crowded around him. He at once instructed and entertained, garnering willing engagement from his target audience. Ogalo said he was inspired to use rap after youth attending a 2004 rap concert in Nairobi were trampled to death.
“I said, this should not happen anymore,” Ogalo told the BBC. “If young people want entertainment, they can come to church to pray, to play and to entertain themselves.”
Church officials objected, however, with concerns that Ogalo’s use of rap might lead to confusion over whether the church condoned certain aspects of secular culture.
“There are ways of doing things. There are certain things the church promotes in the society. If we mix … what the secular and church institutions do, then definitely people are going to read different messages,” Father Charles Kochiel, judicial vicar of the interdiocesan tribunal of Kisumu, told Catholic News Service.
Parishioners and church leaders alike expressed disappointment over Ogalo’s suspension. They pointed to the fact that his rapping attracted hundreds of younger Kenyans and that Ogalo had mentored many of them and encouraged them to abandon lives of drug abuse. Others objected to what they saw as unnecessary church infighting, in light of their belief that all that truly mattered was preaching Christ and honoring those teachings, no matter the method.
“We are happy that his style of preaching is attracting many youths to church. He has mentored very many youths to leave … drug abuse and embrace farming, business and other activities,” church youth leader Violet Menya told CNS.
A priest and a catechist who spoke with CNS on condition of anonymity also expressed support for Ogalo.
“What’s important is to bring people to Christ, nothing else. We should not fight the same body of Christ,” the catechist told CNS.
“We should support any initiative that helps young people come to Christ,” added the unnamed priest, saying that Ogalo’s suspension was “a huge disappointment to the young generation, who are majority in the church.”
Some parishioners declared they would have nothing to do with the church until Ogalo was reinstated, but Kochiel has remained unwavering in his opposition to Ogalo’s use of rap, claiming it does not have spiritual value.
“When something is wrong, even if the crowd goes for it, it’s still wrong,” Kochiel told CNS. “People could be looking at it from the social point of view, like bringing people on board, gathering and entertaining people. But people could also be looking at this from the spiritual point of view: Does it promote spiritual values or is it sending a wrong message?”
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