Battling Al-Shabaab, Kenyan Catholic soldiers find courage in their faith
THE NAME AL-SHABAAB sends chills down any Kenyan’s spine. It is synonymous with death, violence, and destruction. The Somalia-based Islamist terrorist group has singled out Christians in numerous attacks in Kenya, most recently in the capital of Nairobi Jan. 15, 2019, when at least 20 were killed (including four terrorists) in an assault on a luxury hotel complex. The Kenyan army is doing what it can to protect citizens and take the fight to the Al Qaeda-allied group in Somalia. A colonel in the Kenyan army tells Aid to the Church in Need about the military challenges and the power of faith:
“My name is Lt. Colonel Thomas Pogisho, and I was born in far-flung Pokot, one of the marginalized parts of Kenya. As you can imagine, being born on harsh terrain to a family that rears animals was not easy. But my parents were Catholics and took us to church quite early in life, which gave us the opportunity to mingle with others and learn about school.
“Since then, I have depended on Church teachings for guidance. For me, there are four marks of a true Church, which I see in Catholicism: The Bible as the only manual of life for any Christian believer; a belief in the life and dignity of the human person; the call to family, community; and participation in God’s creation; and the rights and responsibilities of a Christian
“Other principles that guide me include: real options for the poor and vulnerable and the reduction of suffering; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity and togetherness and care for God’s creation, rather than destruction.
“I always knew that I wanted a career in the army, which came from my sense of duty and patriotism—my desire to defend our nation. Its benefits, including a good salary and comprehensive medical care for my family, are an added bonus. So, I took the army job enthusiastically.
“As the years went by, Kenya, a mostly peaceful country, came under attack: first by Al-Qaeda, then by Al-Shabaab. Soon, we had no choice but to fight. You would think that the threat would be too much, that it would weaken our resolve, but it’s actually done the opposite: it has made the Kenyan military tougher and more aggressive. In response to the conflict, both men and women have acquired new weapons and skills.
“However, despite these advancements, we are still human, and we need faith. My faith helps me a lot. I pray throughout the day and ask God for his help; Psalm 23 also assures me of his care and protection. And fellowship in the jungle is strong, even in the face of great adversity: we pray and celebrate Mass each day and pray the rosary every morning and evening; and those who go on patrols carry holy water with them, sprinkling themselves and their vehicles.
“Death is a part of what we do, and we are soothed by the knowledge that it will bring us to our next home where all the fears and sorrows will be wiped away. We are also taught that we will see our loved ones again.
“I urge my fellow Catholics to put their faith in action, and I urge my fellow soldiers to bear in mind that dying for their country is a noble act. Let us all look forward to receiving our heavenly reward.”