, 16 November, 2020 / 11:23 PM
The Catholic Church in Kenya witnessed the blessing of the country’s first-ever Benedictine Abbot who was told not to hesitate in cutting “out stubborn” members from the 106-year-old Religious Order that is part of the Benedictine Confederation.
Fr. John Baptist Oese Imai of the Benedictine Missionaries of St. Ottillien in Tigoni within the Archdiocese of Nairobi was, on Saturday, November 14 told to lead other monks with courage and wisdom, and to be ready to eject those that may threaten the life of the community of Monks who combine the Benedictine way of life with the ministry in the mission.
Addressing himself to the Cleric in a televised homily, Abbot Martin Pambo from Tanzania said, “I besiege you not to be a coward. Admonish, rebuke and warn where necessary”
The Abbot explained, “Our founder Benedict says that where you have tried to lead a soul that isn’t heeding to your leadership, use a sharp knife to cut out a stubborn Monk from the community to prevent the stubbornness from spreading to other monks.”
He further urged the new Abbot to always draw strength from God and to act with wisdom and courage, noting that at some point, he may be forced “to cut out” those close to him.
“Sometimes you will have to cut out your own friends,” Abbot Pambo said, and added, “That’s why we pray for prophetic wisdom and courage so as not to act with biases but to treat everyone fairly; to treat each one of us with mercy and justice with the knowledge that all of us have weaknesses.”
“You’ve been made a shepherd of sheep that aren’t yours. The sheep belong to Jesus Christ,” Abbot John Baptist was told.
Fr. John Baptist’s elevation as an Abbot was a significant occasion in the East African country, which reportedly had a man with such a title “many years ago,” as Fr. Casmir Odundo, the Parochial Vicar of St. Mary’s Parish Kabarnet of Kenya’s Diocese of Nakuru recollects.
“History was made in Kenya today when Fr. John Baptist Oese Imai was finally blessed as an abbot. He becomes the first Benedictine Abbot in Kenya. History has it that some years past, we had an abbot in Kipkelion Monastery in Kericho who belonged to the Cistercian order,” Fr. Casmir says in his November 14 reflection shared with ACI Africa.
Fr. John Baptist’s blessing followed the September elevation of the Conventual Priory of Prince of Peace, Tigoni Kenya of the Benedictine Missionaries of St. Ottillien to an Abbey.
The Benedictine Missionaries were invited to Kenya in 1972 and can now be found in the Archdioceses of Nairobi and Nyeri, and in the Dioceses of Eldoret and Marsabit.
Two other Abbots from African countries participated in the blessing ceremony that was presided over by the Auxiliary Bishop of Nairobi Archdiocese, Bishop David Kamau.
In his homily, Abbot Pambo from Tanzania explained that though an Abbot puts on insignia's similar to a Bishop, Abbots are not Bishops.
“Bishops are appointed by the Holy Father; an Abbot is elected by the monks in an Abbey,” the Abbot said, and explained, “The election is of course ratified by the competent ecclesial authority. Bishops are consecrated or ordained Bishops; abbots are blessed.”
While the jurisdiction of a Bishop covers the entire portion of the People of God entrusted to him, the Abbot has jurisdiction over his Monks and is also to take special care of those who come to the Monastery, Abbot Pambo explained.
He went on to explain the symbolism of the insignia that was to be presented to the new Abbot saying, “The Pectoral Cross which abbots and Bishops wear on their chest is a reminder of the heavy burdens entrusted to them. The Ring is a symbol of fidelity to the mission, the Mitre a symbol of the dignity of the office and Staff with a crooked head a symbol of authority to protect and bring back the flock.”
Quoting the rule of St. Benedict, Abbot Pambo reminded the new Abbot that the souls of the Religious have been entrusted to him.
“Remember that you are a shepherd of a flock that is not yours,” Abbot Pambo cautioned the newly blessed Abbot, and added, “May God fill you with prophetic strength and the zeal to think sharply, to speak eloquently and to act in wisdom to be able to lead the flock that you have been handed.”
The new Abbot was further reminded that leadership, which he was about to take upon himself was “not easy.”
“Leadership is not easy. It is a heavy burden. It is compared to the cross to remind him (Fr. John Baptist) just from the beginning that whatever journey he is embarking on isn’t easy,” the Tanzanian Abbot said.
He added, “The Abbot needs prophetic courage because if he isn’t courageous, he will mislead the flock. He will mislead the Abbey and the Monks. He needs to act in reason and courage drawing from the wisdom from God.”
And turning on the Congregants at the blessing ceremony, Abbot Pambo said, “We pray for our father, Abbot John Baptist to always say the words that proceed from God…so that God may speak through him when he talks to the Monks and to the people of God.”
Prior to his election as Abbot, Fr. John Baptist who hails from Kenya’s Diocese of Bungoma served as Prior of the Tigoni. He had also ministered at St. Benedict's Parish Ruaraka of Nairobi Archdiocese as Parish Priest.
The 42-year-old who is passionate about liturgical music also has a long experience in formation and has been Novice master of the Monks in Tigoni for many years.
He is the brains behind the popular Jina Maria (the name Mary), which is sung at the end of Holy Mass across Kenya.
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa