Newly Ordained Apostle of Jesus Clergy to Temporarily Minister “at home” Due to COVID-19

Clergy of the Apostles of Jesus, the first religious missionary congregation to be founded in Africa, at their ordination in Nairobi, March 19, 2020

The newly ordained deacons and priests belonging to the Religious Missionary Congregation of the Apostles of Jesus (AJ) will temporarily minister in their respective native parishes, with the measures taken by various governments to contain the spread of COVID-19 impeding the 21 ordained clergy from traveling to their respective missions, a Church official said at the ordination event, Thursday, March 19.

Ordained at AJ grounds in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, the 16 deacons and five priests are natives of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

“Initially, we had thought that from here they (newly ordained clergy) would go straight to the mission with a few days of staying at home with their people, thanksgiving Masses and celebrations, but again, with the challenge of the coronavirus, many borders are closed. It is impossible to move and cross borders easily,” the Pontifical Commissary, Fr. Raphael Wokorach, a Ugandan-born Comboni Missionary, told the congregation during the ordination.

AJ, the first religious missionary congregation to be founded in Africa, had its activities suspended by the Vatican, through a decree issued by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life dated June 21, 2018, placing the society under a Pontifical Commission of inquiry.

The Vatican-based Dicastery, which took over all duties of AJ leadership and undertook to conduct investigation into behavior of the members of the society, appointed Comboni Missionary Fr. Wokorach to head the investigation commission as the Pontifical Commissary.


In the June 2018 decree, the Dicastery prohibited “the admission of new members to the novitiate and to temporary and perpetual religious profession, and the suspension of diaconal ordinations."

The decree also communicated the closure of seminaries run by AJ as well as the verification of "the economic and financial system, helping the members to lead a life according to the vow of poverty, based on the constitution."

A glimmer of hope for the society came last August when the Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya, Archbishop Bert van Megen presided over the ordination of 14 AJ deacons as priests.

At the Nairobi event, Archbishop van Megen commended Fr. Wokorach-led Pontifical Commission for making good progress in the investigations about the 51-year-old society.

“The Commissary team is doing a commendable job and as you can see, my presence here today is an indication that things are moving in the right direction,” the AMECEA Online News quoted Archbishop van Megen as saying during the August 9 event.

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Speaking at the same event, Fr. Wokorach said, “We have brothers who are on perpetual vows. The team on formation and ongoing formation has done formidable job to prepare the program and we are ready to go. The program will start in the middle of September this year.”

Founded by two Comboni Missionary clerics, Bishop Sixtus Mazzoldi and Fr. John Marengoni in Moroto, Uganda in 1968 for the purpose of evangelizing Africa and the world, AJ has over the years commissioned its members to various countries including Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan and to other parts of Africa, Europe, Australia and the United States.

In his address at the March 19 ordination event, Fr. Wokorach said the newly ordained will now “go and celebrate thanksgiving Masses and so forth in their own home parishes,” where they will remain until April 21.

“We will continue to follow the instructions that the governments will give to see if there are possibilities of already crossing borders and so forth,” Fr. Wokorach said and added, “If this period extends beyond April 21, then we shall ask the respective Regional Superiors … to assign them temporarily to communities nearby to keep serving within our own circumscription.”

Addressing the ordained clergy and those who traveled to witness their ordination, Fr. Wokorach encouraged a mood of celebration despite the reality COVID-19, a global pandemic.


“Today is a day of joy and when we pray, we forget a bit the threats that the world is facing with the coronavirus virus, a deadly virus. And indeed, we call it the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it,” the Ugandan missionary cleric said.

With more than 700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 spread across at least 36 African countries, governments on the continent have imposed a range of measures aimed at preventing and containing the spread of the pandemic, including the closure of some national borders and placing a ban on gatherings that involve many people.

“Being missionary means leaving your country, kindred. We as missionaries, we believe, as the bishop reminded us to go and infect others with the good news, the gospel,” Comboni Missionary Fr. Wokorach, referencing the Bishop who presided over the ordination Mass, Rodrigo Majia Saldarriaga, a member of the Society of Jesus (SJ) who was, until January 2014, Vicar Apostolic of Soddo in Ethiopia.

In his homily, the 81-year-old Vicar Apostolic emeritus used the example of COVID-19 pandemic to call on the faithful to pray for the newly ordained clergy to become “viruses” that contaminate the world with the Good News of the gospel.

The Jesuit Colombian Prelate encouraged the newly ordained AJ clergy to make a positive impact to the society by being available to the people of God.

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On his part, Fr. Francis Komakech, a formator at the Nairobi-based AJ institute of philosophy and theology expressed his joy at the growth of the society following the March 19 ordination.

“Today's ordination of five priests and 16 deacons in the Congregation of the Apostles of Jesus confirms that the uphill journey is indeed on course. For the last three to four months now, those who are being ordained deacons today have been for a special program,” Fr. Komakech said.

Meanwhile, speaking on behalf of the ordained clergy, Deacon Moses Nkurunziza invited the faithful to pray for them to succeed in their ministry as religious missionaries.

“With prayers we shall be victorious; and that we do through the Sacred Heart of Jesus, by the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Joseph, the Apostles of the Lord, the martyrs of Uganda and all the saints and martyrs of Africa who are all our patron Saints,” Deacon Nkurunziza said.

Sr. Mary Santrina Tumusiime IBVM (Loreto) contributed to this news report

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.