Legio Maria

A unique African Christian movement that believes their founder is the resurrected son of God

Religion: Christianity
Denomination: African Independent Church
Founder: Simeo Ondeto
Founded: 1962
Location: Kenya
Size: Approximately 3 million members
Other Names: Legio Maria African Mission of Kenya

Legio Maria, officially recognized as Legio Maria of African Church Mission, is a significant African Initiated Church that traces its roots back to the Luo community in western Kenya. Founded in 1963 by Simeo Ondeto, a catechist, and Gaundencia Aoko, Legio Maria distinguished itself from other Christian denominations through its unique blend of Christian beliefs, African cultural practices, and prophetic experiences that both founders claimed to have had. This church emerged during a period of religious awakening among the Luo, alongside several other African-initiated churches, marking a significant chapter in the religious history of Kenya and beyond.

By 1966, just three years after its establishment, Legio Maria had grown substantially, demonstrating its resilience and appeal among its followers. The movement, initially confined to the Luo people, expanded its reach across Kenya and into neighboring countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia. As of 2004, estimates suggested that Legio Maria had over three million adherents, showcasing its status as one of the most substantial African-initiated churches.

The movement is partially attributed to the interpretations of the Three Secrets of Fátima, a series of apocalyptic visions and prophecies purportedly given by the Virgin Mary to three young Portuguese shepherds in 1917. Legio Maria believers focus especially on the third secret, which they argue was not fully disclosed by the Roman Catholic Church. According to this, this secret foretold the coming of a Black Christ in Africa, which refers to Simeo Ondeto, whom they regard as the incarnated son of God. It is further believed that Ondeto died and resurrected in 1958, which further solidified his spiritual authority and the foundational beliefs of Legio Maria.

Legio Maria practices include a charismatic form of Christianity that embraces the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and exorcism, while maintaining a structure and worship style reminiscent of Roman Catholicism. Its services are characterized by the use of vernacular languages and the incorporation of African cultural elements, alongside traditional Christian rituals like the Latin mass. The church is governed by a pope, a position that has seen several occupants since Ondeto’s death, and has experienced internal divisions and challenges throughout its history, including disputes over leadership.

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