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Kenyan Sabbatical Program Lauded for “ongoing transformation” of Clergy, Religious

Bishop Virgilio Pante, IMC with the graduates of St. John Paul II Sabbatical Program.

A sabbatical program undertaken at a Kenyan Diocese has been lauded for facilitating the “transformation” of members of the Clergy and women Religious who participate in the four-month renewal course.

Speaking to ACI Africa on the sidelines of the graduation of 28 latest beneficiaries of the sabbatical program at St. John Paul II Sabbatical Centre in Kenya’s Murang’a Diocese, Bishop Virgilio Pante said that those who go through the program get “refreshed and renewed.”

“Now my brothers and sisters will go home to serve, full of energy, refreshed and renewed,” Bishop Pante told ACI Africa Monday, December 7, referencing the nine Sisters and 19 Priests who graduated from the seven-year-old Kenyan institution.

He added, “It is my desire that as many Priests may have the opportunity to undertake this program. We are human and we need to recharge ourselves like you recharge your battery.”

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The member of the Consolata Missionaries who presided over Holy Mass and the graduation ceremony went on to liken the Clergy and Religious women and men to vehicles that need regular service.  

“You do not wait until a car (is) broken on the road then you come with a chain to pull it; but you do regular service – spiritually, physically – so as to be refreshed and renewed, what we call ongoing transformation,” the 74-year-old Italian-born Bishop told ACI Africa.

He further noted that everyone needs renewal since “we have not attained perfection the way the Lord wants us to be.”

A brainchild of Bishop James Maria Wainaina of Kenya’s Murang’a Diocese, St. John Paul II Sabbatical Program was launched on 10 August 2013.

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Archbishop Peter Kairu, the emeritus of Kenya’s Nyeri Archdiocese presided over the inauguration of the program that strives to integrate physical, emotional and spiritual life with apostolate across the four-month program duration.

The leadership of the sabbatical center envisions that the program provides a conducive environment for Priests, Religious men and women to work on their personal development and to rekindle their spiritual life, foster a deeper love for God, self and others.

The 28 Clergy and Religious women who graduated December 7 with a Certificate in Multicultural, Psycho-Spiritual Counselling, Human and Personal Development belong to Kenyan Dioceses and Religious Orders with members in Kenya.

The graduates were drawn from the 14th and 15th sessions of the program. The 14th session participants are those whose time at the center was interrupted by the COVID-19 measures in March, forcing them to take a break before rejoining in October and merging with the August-December 15th session participants.

Speaking on behalf of the graduates, Fr. James Maloba Wesonga, a Clergy of Kenya's Nairobi Archdiocese said that the four months offered those enrolled at the institution “a moment of rest and thanksgiving, coupled by renewal with new strength and zeal, for the apostolate that will be entrusted to us.”

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For Sr. Monica Marachi Mwadime, the sabbatical program offered her an opportunity to work on her personal development and to rekindle her spiritual life and foster a deeper love for God, self and others.

“It’s time for quality rest. Time to pray, play, read and discuss,” Sr. Monica who has been a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph Mombasa for 46 years told ACI Africa adding, “I have grown.”

Making reference to the sabbatical program, she added, “I would recommend it to Priests and the Religious who have been in ministry for a number of years and maybe they have accumulated a lot of fatigue and they need a rest.”

For Fr. Martin Wanyoike, a Clergy of the host Diocese, the sabbatical program is “worth every minute and every moment.”

“Having worked in the vineyard for 27 years as a Priest, I literally looked forward to (resting) and I can confirm that after four months I have rested very well,” Fr. Wanyoike told ACI Africa December 7.

He added, “It was a moment to reflect on my life and priesthood journey; where I have come from, where I am and where I want to go in the future.”

“I would recommend it to other Priests and Religious because I came to a point of feeling exhausted, fatigued and almost at the point of burn out, but after four months, I feel renewed, refreshed and ready to face the future,” he added.

On the perception that sabbatical programs are meant for those with disciplinary cases, Fr. Wanyoike said, “It is a very unfortunate perception. That’s not the case.”

“My idea of the center was a bit ignorant and a bit negative, like if a Priest has a particular problem they need to come here and revisit their vocations,” Bishop Pante told ACI Africa regarding the negative perception associated with the sabbatical program.

The feedback from those who have undertaken the program has been very positive, with Priests giving testimonies of their transformation to their Bishops, Bishop Pante said, recalling the sharing he had with Bishop Peter Kihara of Kenya’s Marsabit Diocese whose Priests had graduated from the four-month program.

Upon Bishop Kihara’s recommendation, Bishop Pante asked two of his Priests to enroll in the program.  

“At the beginning they were a bit doubtful, one asking me ‘Bishop, why are you sending me there and not someone else’. Now as I spoke to him, he is very happy. They are both appreciative that I sent them here,” Bishop Pante told ACI Africa referencing his two Priests who were part of the 15th session.

As the leadership of the center looks forward to the next session, which is expected to start on January 11, the Director of the program, Fr. Joseph Gatamu expressed the hope the Kenyan institution will enroll Priests and Religious women and men from outside the country as has been the case before COVID-19 restrictions.