To many, Archbishop Ndingi will be most remembered for the help he gave them when ethnic violence swept through the Rift valley in the early 1990s.
Catholic Bishops in Kenya have hailed the Prelate who they described as having “tirelessly and truly laid down his life for the flock and the entire people of Kenya.”
“We as Bishops of Kenya have lost our dear and highly respected brother in the Episcopate, a revered shepherd who tirelessly and truly laid down his life for the flock and the entire people of Kenya,” read a tribute to the late Archbishop, which was signed by Archbishop Anyolo, Chairman of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) on Sunday, April 5.
Bishop John Oballa, Chairman of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) of KCCB praised a leader who spoke for the weak and the voiceless.
“The late Archbishop Emeritus Ndingi Mwana ’a Nzeki served during turbulent times in the history of our country. He spoke for the weak and the voiceless, always championed and fought for truth and justice to prevail, circumstances notwithstanding,” Bishop Oballa stated.
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The Justice and Peace official further described a man who promoted dialogue between men and women throughout Kenya, while respecting the diversity of their culture and religious inclinations.
“While conflicts and disputes are expected in any environment where human beings are, Archbishop Emeritus Ndingi used his superior leadership abilities to encourage, guide and promote cooperation,” said Bishop Oballa.
When he served at KCCB as the Chairman, the late Archbishop Ndingi is said to have guided “with good measure and ability during the heated interreligious and inter-ecclesiastical dialogues towards a common understanding,” according to Bishop Oballa.
Born in 1931 in the present-day diocese of Machakos, Archbishop Ndingi only attended formal education by chance, according to the eulogy read by Fr. Laurence Njoroge, a lecturer and Chaplain at a Kenyan university.
“During that time, the Kambas (a Kenyan tribe) had not embraced western education as a way of bringing up the youth., especially for boys. Herding cattle was their main occupation. The government therefore made it mandatory for each family to volunteer a son to go to school or suffer a fine of one cow,” reads the eulogy, noting that young Ndingi took up a position that was declined by his brother to go to school.
He trained as a teacher before joining Kibosho Seminary in Moshi, Tanzania and was ordained Priest in January 1961, becoming the first Kamba to be ordained Roman Catholic Priest.
While ministering at Our Lady of the Visitation parish in Nairobi, the young priest is said to have set up a hostel for the homeless who had just gotten to the city in search of livelihoods and had no accommodation around.
He’s a celebrated reformist in Kenya’s education system for fighting to improve the education system while he served as Education Secretary in the Archdiocese of Nairobi.
Appointed the first Bishop of Machakos Diocese that was carved from Nairobi Archdiocese, the late Archbishop was consecrated Bishop by Pope Paul VI in 1969 in Uganda during the first Papal visit to Africa.
The appointment gave the late Archbishop a platform to distinguish himself as a champion of good African customs and an enemy of evil practices, according to the April 7 eulogy.
“One lasting memory of his Machakos years is that he told off politicians who tried to bribe and force innocent citizens to vote for them in the 1969 General Election. This strong stand against evil was just a foretaste of things to come. The political class had seen nothing yet,” read a part of the eulogy.
But it was during his tenure as Bishop of Nakuru diocese between 1972-1996 that Archbishop Ndingi’s courageous defense of the oppressed people during the infamous tribal clashes in the 1990s was felt most. He is said to have, at one point, sold his car to provide for people who had been internally displaced by violence in Kenya’s Rift Valley region.
In a television program, Kenyan award-winning journalist, Linus Kaikai serving as the Director of Strategy and Innovation of Citizen TV, Kenya’s leading television channel, eulogized a man who was small in stature but a giant in character.
“In physical terms, the late Archbishop Nzeki was a very small man. When I met him for the first time, I felt my height was rude to a man I considered a giant. And a giant, Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki was,” said Kaikai who doubles as the Chairman of the Kenya Editors Guild.
According to the Kenyan journalist, the late Archbishop personified the truth and courage as Bishop of Nakuru Diocese for 24 years.
“He was Bishop at a time when truth and courage were dangerous attributes to possess or fight for. Ndingi belonged to a rare breed. He belonged to an irreplaceable generation of religious leaders that stood for greater ideas for the Church and for the country,” said Kaikai during the April 2 program, News Gang.
He said that besides Ndingi Mwana a Nzeki in Nakuru, the Catholics had sainthood-bound Maurice Cardinal Otunga, the Archbishop of Nairobi, the soft-spoken but firm John Njenga in Mombasa, a fiery Zaccheus Okoth in the Archdiocese of Kisumu as well as Anglican and Presbyterian leaders who kept the government in check.
“Together with Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki, these religious leaders stood for the good of all Kenyans in a most unique way. Together with Ndingi, they made the pulpit an authoritative source of hope and common good,” said Kaikai.
He added, “It was a generation of incorruptible, independent minded and courageous church leaders that spoke truth to power. They fearlessly took on the government of KANU as they preached the gospel and virtues of good governance. They stood out like giants and luckily for Kenya, across several regions of the country, these religious giants defied religious boundaries and spoke the voice of one congregation of Christ and one people of Kenya.”
As Archbishop of Nairobi between 1996 and 2007, the late Archbishop will be remembered for his role in growing the number of parishes in the Archdiocese from 80 to over 100, ordaining 56 priests and forming many professionals, religious sisters and Clergy in their vocations.
The late Archbishop who “thirsted, pursued and fought for truth and justice” was in 1996 awarded a doctorate of Law by St. John Fisher College, his alma mater. Additionally, he was honoured with the State Commendation, Elder of the Order of the Burning Spear by the Republic of Kenya in recognition of his enormous contribution to national service.
Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.