Legio Maria Movement. Doctrines – Members of the Legio Maria movement believe in the central message of Christianity, and specifically in the central role of Mary as ‘queen’, ‘mother’ and the ‘mediatrix’. However, beliefs concerning the interaction between the world of the spirits and that of living human beings differ slightly from mainstream Catholic beliefs. Among Legio Maria members, central importance is given to the need to control the world of the spirits through possession, exorcism, healing, and the actual use of mediums, who are mainly lay people and members of the movement.
In the realm of ecclesial organization, members of the Legio Maria believe that priests are not needed in order to contact the spiritual world, but that particular individuals who have had personal visions of Mary (or Jesus and Mary) have been given the power to heal people and to deal with the world of the spirits.
History The Legio Maria began as an organized movement in 1962/3, while its historical development began years before. The movement represented the continuation of a Luo response to Christianity seen in its colonial form, and the control exercised by European missionaries on Christian communities in Western Kenya. By 1921, most Luo territories had a Christian presence, and one of the first converts, Joanes Owalo, had already founded the first independent church, called Namiya Luo, a church that rejected the whole missionary enterprise, while accepting the Christian message. That event constituted the first historical precedent of the Legio Maria.
By the 1930s, Miss Edel Quinn brought the Roman Catholic lay movement of the Legion of Mary to Western Kenya, and by 1949 it had already expanded to most Catholic missions of the Vicariate of Kisumu. The Legion of Mary members, guided by a particular handbook, held prayer meetings that followed a particular format, and also pursued works of charity, fostering the involvement of lay people in the life of the Church. However, discontent arose as priests were the only ones who could instruct members of those groups, and who could exercise an active ministry in the Church. As a result, Gaudencia Aoko and Simeo Ondeto, the founders of the Legio Maria, invoked the authority given to them by God through personal visions, in order to heal, to preach, to pray for the sick, and to baptize those who did not have money to pay fees, those who could not pass an examination that required knowing the catechism by heart, and those women who were in irregular unions.
As a result, Aoko and Ondeto were excommunicated, and drew followers from their Luo clans. They eventually developed a constitution for the movement that included a hierarchical structure, including a pope (Timothy Atila), cardinals, bishops, priests, and altar boys. With the departure of Aoko the movement has declined in strength. However, it remains the largest African church to have emerged from a Roman Catholic background.
Symbols In general the Legio Maria uses the same symbols as those used in the Catholic Church, however of a larger size. Mystical powers, as suggested in the Luo tradition, can be associated with objects, therefore the larger the size of the objects, the stronger the potency of those objects. In effect, crucifixes, icons and images, holy water, large rosaries, cassocks (kanzu) and religious habits are used by all members of the movement to symbolize the power of God exercised through membership of the Legio Maria.
Adherents At its peak the Legio Maria Movement had some 90,000 members (Harris and others 1994, 140). It is uncertain how many members the movement has today.
Main Centre Nyanza Province of Western Kenya, especially Central Nyanza, where the headquarters (known as Jerusalem) are located, a communal village built around the house of Simeo Ondeto, the founder of the Legio Maria, and currently known as the Baba Messiah by its members.