Clergy, Religious in Kenya Challenged to Leave Comfort Zones, to Venture into Peripheries

Some Catholic nuns during the National Prayer Day at the Subukia National Shrine in Nakuru, on October 5, 2019.
Credit: Public Domain.

A majority of members of the Clergy and Religious Orders in Kenya are found in the country’s capital, Nairobi that offers better living standards, a Catholic Cleric ministering in the country has observed and called on Religious men and women not to shy away from missions characterized with hardships.

Fr. Teddy Njaya whose apostolate involves promoting missionary experience in Kenya under the Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) said that Religious Life is a calling to reach out to the marginalized people and that members of the Clergy and Religious men and women have no business leading comfortable lives in urban missions.

“I have been moving from diocese to diocese for years now and I have realized that Nairobi has more Clergy and Religious congregations than in far-flung places where Priests and Sisters are needed the most,” Fr. Teddy said Friday, October 23.

The Cleric spoke broadly about the topic, “Mission to the Margins” during the three-day workshop that started Thursday, October 22, bringing together Clerics and Religious men and women involved in pastoral animation in Kenya.

He added, “Most of these Congregations were formed in the 18th and 20th centuries to serve the poor. I challenge their members to reach out to the poor where they are needed most.”

The pastoral animator urged the Priests and Religious who participated in the webinar to move out of their “comfort zones” and to evangelize to the poor and marginalized.

“None of your charisms speaks about staying in towns,” the PMS official said, and added, “You therefore have no business concentrating in towns when people in hardship places go for months without receiving services of a Priest.”

About 80 participants logged into the webinar that brought together liaison Committee members of the Commission for Clergy and Religious serving under the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), PMS Directors as well as PMS Coordinators who were drawn from different dioceses in the east African country.

Fr. Teddy who is a member of the Comboni Missionaries further urged participants in the webinar to look at Mission as “a preferential option for the poor.”

“Poverty is one of the realities of the world today and is not an abstract concept. A poor person is a concrete person without food, water and clothing and who lives on the fringes of the society. This person can be reached physically,” he said.

“Mission from the Margins” focuses on the indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, and those who have been discriminated against and excluded because of their gender, race, ethnicity, disability, class, caste, sexuality, religion or age.

In carrying out the role of evangelization, Fr. Teddy urged members of the Clergy and Religious men and women to consider areas of primary evangelization including Malindi, Garissa, Marsabit, Lodwar, areas of East and West Pokot as well as areas of Ngong diocese, which he said had scarcity of religious vocations.

Some, it was observed in the webinar, still worshipped various objects including trees and animals.

Sr. Florence Machengo, a participant in the webinar narrated her experience of working in an area where locals worshipped a tree and said, “It is true. We need to go deep into these areas, learn their culture, how they perceive their superior beings and teach them about our own God.”

The second category of Mission, Fr. Teddy observed, are areas in need for deeper evangelization where the Word has been received and has grown but where there are signs of fatigue and indifference. He noted that all dioceses in Kenya, apart from those in need of primary evangelization require deeper evangelization.

Thirdly, there is a need for re-evangelization in areas where the faith is strong but where there is emergence of sects and cults within the Church. The Cleric, in this case, gave the example of Gwata Ndai, a cult within Nairobi that had attracted members of the Church.

“Strong Catholics in Nairobi including those active in the Catholic Men Association went to Gwata Ndai to be initiated. They still came to Church but maintained strong cultural inclinations of this cult,” Fr. Teddy said of the group that emphasized strong cultural practices that he said went against the doctrine of the Church.  

The pastoral animator also engaged participants in discussing the emerging shift from studying church related subjects and disparities in vocations where some Dioceses have more Priests than others. He encouraged the sharing of human resources between Dioceses.

“Today, people in Religious Life are shifting from studying Church-related subjects and Canon Law and pursuing secular courses such as Engineering instead,” he said.

In his considered view, “We need to be masters in Canon Law, Scripture and other Church matters in order to provide the leadership and guidance that is required in the Church.”

Other issues affecting evangelization, especially in marginalized areas are famine and tribal tension, according to the Comboni Missionary who ministers in Kenya’s Eldoret Diocese.

Narrating his experience in Turkana, one of the country’s marginalized areas, he said, “I used to travel for over 140 kilometers to go and celebrate Mass in one far-away outstation or the other. On reaching, I would find people who were not concerned about Mass at all but whose only concern was getting a meal because they rely on relief food.”

Some participants in the October 23 webinar, however, noted that ill health made them shun hardship areas.

Still, others said that they had no say in terms of choosing where to go for their apostolates since such decisions are made by their respective Religious Superiors.

Sr. Florence blamed older members of various Religious Orders for misleading younger members by talking ill of marginalized areas.

“Some of us who are older in Religious Life may discourage the young ones who join Religious Life, energetic to serve the people of God in marginalized areas, Sr. Florence said.

the member of the Sisters of Mary of Kakamega explained, “We talk terribly about missions in such places and when a young sister says she has been sent to such a place, we ask them what they did wrong to deserve such a punishment. We tell them that they must have stepped on their superior’s toe to be sent to such areas. This should never be the case.”

Other participants at the two-hour meeting talked about the need to immerse themselves in the cultures of the indigenous communities where they are sent to evangelize including learning the local languages to evangelize effectively.

In his final remarks at the event, Fr. Bonaventure Luchidio, the PMS National Director in Kenya encouraged the participants to be open to the different ways in which the laity are willing to help build the Church.

“The problem we have these days is that Priests want money more than the goods that the members of the Church are usually willing to give and to afford. Let us allow Christians to give what they can afford,” he said.

“The Church and the mission is about giving and receiving. It is time to teach our Christians to support our missions,” the PMS Director said and added, “Our donors today are the Christians. From them, we can get the support in our missions.”


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