This article examines the Legio Maria Church of western Kenya, a relatively rare example of schism from the Roman Catholic Church in Africa. One of more than seven thousand African Initiated Churches in existence today, it combines conservative Catholicism, traditional religion and charismatic manifestations of the Spirit. Yet this group is different in one important respect——it worships a black messiah, claiming that its founder, Simeo Ondeto, was Jesus Christ reincarnated in African skin. This article considers factors involved in the group's genesis as a distinct modern-day messianic movement, including: (1) the need to defend and define itself vis-àà-vis Roman Catholicism; (2) the appropriation of apocalyptic ideas found in Christian scriptures and their synthesis with local religious traditions; and (3) the imitation of Jesus' example and teaching to confront political and religious persecution in a manner marked by openness, universalism and nonviolence. Eschewing Western theological categories for African ones, this article draws upon internal sources and explanations of Legio Maria's notion of messianism and Ondeto's role therein to illustrate that, far from being a heretical sect, Legio may well represent a more fully contextualized and authentically homegrown version of Catholicism among countless other African Christian realities.
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