, 01 April, 2020 / 7:20 AM
Kenyans, including members of the clergy, religious men and women, lay faithful and government officials have paid glowing tribute to the Archbishop emeritus of Nairobi, Raphael Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki following his death that occured Monday, March 30.
The 88-year-old late Archbishop who was consecrated Bishop by Pope Paul VI in 1969 in Uganda during the first Papal visit to Africa has been eulogized as an advocate for justice and the rights of the marginalized, having maintained a prophetic stance for truth and accountability.
“A sombre morning as His Eminence John Cardinal Njue has announced the passing on of His Grace Archbishop Emeritus Raphael Ndingi Mwana a'Nzeki. Let us pray for the repose of his soul,” reads the March 31 message from the Archdiocese of Nairobi widely shared on social media.
The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) clarified, in a statement, that the late Archbishop had passed on “last night (Monday, March 30) at Clergy Home of the Archdiocese of Nairobi and confirmed at the Mater Hospital, due to old age.”
The first Prelate in Kenya to celebrate an episcopal golden jubilee, the late Prelate’s advocacy for justice and truth gained credence when, in the 1990s, while serving as the Bishop of Nakuru diocese within Kenya’s Rift Valley region, he did not shy away from speaking truth to the State authorities behind violent ethnic skirmishes that resulted in the loss of thousands of lives.
“He was a very brave soul because he had a lot of spiritual strength so when problems came and he had to face those challenges of the tribal conflicts in Rift Valley, the displacements of people, he was very outspoken, very courageous to the authority or to whoever was compromising the dignity of the people,” Archbishop Anthony Muheria recalled in his tribute to the late Prelate.
Archbishop Ndingi fought for the rights of the marginalized “not just because of philanthropy but because he saw in the faces of those people, the daughters and sons of God,” Archbishop Muheria who has interacted with the late Church leader for close to 27 years testified.
He recalls Archbishop Ndingi “as a loving father” who encouraged him in his vocation to the priesthood “telling me that the call that God calls you with is so important that you have to defend it and you have to nurture it because it is not for you but for the service of others.”
The present Local Ordinary of Nakuru, Bishop Maurice Muhatia recalled the late Prelate as having been “Bishop in our diocese during a time we can describe as hard but he stood firm in his faith, stood with the Church and with the Christians.”
Fr. Peter Gichure, a cleric of Nakuru diocese who worked closely with the late Archbishop shared with ACI Africa about the 1992 ethnic clashes that claimed the lives of an estimated 2,000 people.
Referencing the late Archbishop, Fr. Gichure said, “He knew very well that these clashes were premeditated given that Section 2A had just been repealed so Kenya was going to be a multiparty.”
With this knowledge, Fr. Gichure recalls, the late Archbishop “confronted Moi (then Kenyan President) telling him people are living in fear and these are our Christians.”
With families fleeing their homes, the Archbishop told his priests that they must above everything else support the displaced people, which included putting up shelters, Fr. Gichure who is the Director of Graduate School at Nairobi-based Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) recalls, adding that the Kenyan Prelate would visit the displaced people in the camps.
The Kenyan cleric recalled an incident during the clashes when Archbishop Ndingi shared with his fellow Bishops in a meeting that people were being killed in his area but the Bishops did not believe him since the news were not published in the newspapers.
“He told them, if you do not believe me, let us take a bus,” Fr. Gichure recalled and continued, “All the Bishops took a bus and went there (Nakuru) and that was a game changer.”
People like the Servant of God Maurice Michael Cardinal Otunga, Fr. Gichure recalls, “were so touched by the situation on the ground that he felt he could not support the government in that respect.”
“The government would deny, and deny and deny. Journalists were not ready to write everything,” the Professor of Dogmatic Theology and Peace studies recalled in his interview with ACI Africa Tuesday, March 31.
Owing to Archbishop Ndingi’s critique of the President and his clamor for truth and justice, Fr. Gichure revealed, “The government was feeling very agitated by him because he seemed to be letting things out.”:
“His life was always in danger and one time we came back on a Sunday to find his house broken into and vandalized and of course the culprit was the government,” Fr. Gichure shared with ACI Africa, remembering the strategy of intimidation the government of the day employed to silence critics.
Fr. Gichure also described Archbishop Ndingi as a “seeker of truth” explaining, “For him, what was happening in the country was very important and he always wanted to know what was the truth.”
Since the Archbishop was always seen as a critic of the government, Fr. Gichure recalls, “he always made sure I read the papers and go out to seek out information on some things that were being said, verify and try to bring him the right information.”
To ensure that he always took on the government with the right information, the Archbishop had informers who Fr. Gichure reveals. “Would tell him what was happening at the grassroots.”
“Whenever he made a statement against the government or challenged the President, he always had his facts,” Fr. Gichure attested and added, “He always told me you don’t speak if you do not have the facts.”
Fr. Gichure who knew the late Archbishop since early 1970s also recalled the support he received from the late Archbishop while undergoing his formation to the priesthood saying, “When in the seminary he really supported me. At one time they wanted to expel me from the seminary and he came fighting for me. He said he could not allow an injustice to happen.”
“He is the one who took me to the seminary and ordained me on his Feast day on September 29, the Feast of the Archangels,” Fr. Gichure recalled, eulogizing the late Archbishop Raphael Ndingi as a father figure.
On his part, Fr. Anthony Mwituria who lived with the Archbishop Ndingi in his years of retirement and old age has described the late Prelate as a “great man of faith, prayerful,” and one “who stood for what was true because of his faith.”
Fr. Mwituria further told ACI Africa that the late Kenyan Prelate “was a humble man; he would listen and was always ready to change his opinion when circumstances dictated.”
“He was also very caring and supportive of people. He supported many people to pursue their studies and succeed in life. He helped many people from deserving backgrounds and was also involved in rehabilitating street children,” Fr. Mwituria, a lecturer and formator at Kenya’s St. Augustine Major Seminary, Mabanga told ACI Africa during the Tuesday, March 31 interview.
Meanwhile, Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta has, in his condolence message, eulogized Archbishop Ndingi as “a true servant of God who loved all people and served our country with great zeal and humility.”
Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto described the late Prelate as “a towering and progressive spiritual figure who relentlessly advocated for equal justice in our society.”
David Gicheha Twitted in reference to the late Archbishop, “He administered me one of the 7 Catholic sacraments-confirmation, condemned intolerance and helped affected families in 1992 Kenyan post elections skirmishes daring dictator leadership in the country.”
Born in Machakos diocese in eastern Kenya on Christmas Day 1931, Archbishop Ndingi was ordained a priest of Nairobi Archdiocese in January 1961. He served as Bishop of Machakos for a period of two years before he was transferred to Nakuru diocese where he served for 25 years.
He was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Nairobi in June 1996 and succeeded the Servant of God Maurice Cardinal Otunga as Archbishop in April 1997. He retired in October 2007.
In his biography published in 2009 under the title, “A Voice Unstilled,” Archbishop Ndingi is described as “one of the most preeminent Catholic figures in Kenya” who “played a crucial yet insufficiently appreciated role in some of the most momentous events in Kenya, including fighting for social justice, fighting for the African traditional values to be respected by the church's highest authorities in Rome and helping in the growth of education in the country.”