Kenya's Oldest Missionary Congregation Ministering "where others would not go" Lauded

Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya Bert van Megen with a section of Spiritan Priests after the commissioning of Blessed Daniel Brottier Conference Hall and Accommodation facility 15 January 2021
Credit: ACI Africa

The Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya, Archbishop Bert van Megen, has lauded members of the Religious Missionary Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) ministering in a remote settlement in Kenya’s Catholic Diocese of Nakuru for their selflessness and for choosing to go and serve the poorest of the poor “where other people would not go.”

The Spiritans, also known as Holy Ghost Fathers, have been ministering in Tangulbei, which is majorly inhabited by the Pokot, an indigenous nomadic tribe in Kenya, since 1990. They give their all, undeterred by hot days and extremely cold nights that characterize the vast but also one of the least inhabited settlements in Kenya.

The strong winds and dust as well as the winding pot-holed roads are not a hindrance to the missionary Clerics who, for years, have beaten all odds to deliver health services as well as relief aid to the residents of one of the most impoverished communities of the East African country.

Asked what his encouragement to the Spiritans would be, Archbishop van Megen said, “The encouragement goes the other way round.”

He added, “With their (Spiritans) lives, with their example, they encourage me to live more to the fringes, to be more to the peripheries to give more as they give themselves completely. That is something, which I admire in the Spiritans; how they are ready to go to places where other people would not go.”

Addressing the Spiritans in Kenya at their second Provincial Chapter, the representative of the Holy Father in Kenya relayed Pope Francis’ promise to continue supporting the Spiritan fraternity in their evangelization in hardship places.

In his homily Friday, January 15, the Dutch Prelate who also represents the Holy Father in South Sudan said that Pope Francis was praying and thinking about Tangulbei where the Spiritans had been meeting to make key decisions of their Religious Order.

Addressing residents who attended the Holy Mass, Archbishop van Megen said, “The Holy Father is praying for you. Tangulbei is now on the desk of the Pope in Rome. He knows about this place. Can you imagine that!”

He added in reference to the perched settlement, “Many Kenyans do not even know about this place but the Pope knows and, in his heart, he prays with you. He thinks of you and he continues to support you. He is going to support the Clinic at Tangulbei with Ksh.100,000 (US$1,000.00).”

Over Ksh. 400,000 (US$4,000.00) was also raised in a funds drive to help construct a theater for medical procedures at Tangulbei Divisional Medical Programme (TDMP).

A book, “Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church: When!!!?” written by Fr. Maxwell Atugba who is the Priest in charge of St. Luke, Tangulbei mission was also auctioned in the funds drive.

The Spiritan fraternity in the Province of Kenya and South Sudan met from January 10 - 15 for their second Provincial Chapter “to look at where they have come from, where they are, and where they want to be in the years to come,” according to Fr. Isaac Kofi Amponsah-Boateng, who served as the Spiritans’ Secretary of Chapter Preparatory Committee.

The Holy Father’s representative in the two African countries noted that the Spiritan Priests go to the most difficult places in the world “because they trust in the Holy Spirit, because they trust in divine providence, because they trust in the love of God who will help them.”

Tangulbei is a hardship area characterized by extreme levels of poverty and illiteracy and is occasioned with violence, according to Fr. Maxwell who spoke to ACI Africa on the sidelines of the Chapter meeting.

Highlighting some of the challenges he has faced since 2016 when he took over the leadership of the mission that is under the patronage of St. Luke, Fr. Maxwell said, “The place is remote and inaccessible; there are high levels of poverty, illiteracy and war.”

Frequent fights among the Pokot, the Ghanaian-born Cleric said, result from economic interests, cultural issues and cattle rustling.

“Dowry expectation is high also, for example, one is expected to give 50 goats, 18 cows and four camels to get a wife. And here, people rarely marry one wife,” Fr. Maxwell told ACI Africa, adding, “The residents put up with a lot of poverty and most of them survive on only a single meal per day.”

At the January 15 event, the Apostolic Nuncio thanked Lay Spiritan Associates who travelled some 330 kilometres from Kenya’s capital Nairobi, to attend the conclusion of the Chapter in solidarity with their Spiritan Priests.

 Addressing the Lay Spiritans, Archbishop van Megen said, “You put yourselves out there. You sacrifice the little you have in order to share it with others who do not have. That is a beautiful gift. Asante sana (Thank you very much).”

The Lay Spiritans donated food to St. Luke, Tangulbei mission centre and visited one of the mission’s schools where they donated Ksh. 100,000 (US$1,000.00). Some members also took up the sponsorship of a number of vulnerable children in the school.

The group’s chairman Raphael Mutisya said their visit to the Spiritan mission had enlightened the members of the suffering of the vulnerable poor as well as the work of the Spiritan Clerics in hardship areas.

“We have seen the difference between the Pokot children who go to school and those who stay out there in the mountains and rocks, doing nothing the whole day. And we appreciate that our Fathers are doing a wonderful job,” Mr. Mutisya told ACI Africa.

Fr. Joseph Shio who is the correspondent between the Rome-based General Council of the Spiritans and the Eastern African region applauded the Lay Spiritans in Kenya who he said were behind development projects in various hardship places where the Spiritans minister.

“The developments we see here today didn’t just drop from the sky. There is development because people worked for it and because there are people in the Church who are eager to be part of the Spiritan charism,” Fr. Shio said.

The Tanzanian-born Cleric added, “For this, I say a big thank you to the Spiritan Lay Associates for sharing the Spiritan charism. Whatever you are doing now will bear fruits that will be seen for generations to come.”

The Rome-based Spiritan Cleric further lauded the Kenya Province Spiritans “for going into places where the Church has the challenge of getting people to work in those places.”

He further said, “Tangulbei is one of the areas in which the Province has invested most of its energy and resources.  And so, we ask that you continue working in this area with the same selflessness you started with.”

Fr. Shio pledged to tell the story of his confreres seeking to alleviate poverty and illiteracy among the Pokot community saying, “When I go back to Rome, I know I have a lot of information to deliver to the congregation’s Superior. I will also report on the desire of the hospital staff to have a theater for the hospital’s surgical operations.”

“I do not make any promises of financial support but I will surely tell the story of the need of this hospital and if all goes well, something will surely happen,” Fr. Shio said.

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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.

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