First-ever Kenyan Spiritan Bishop Urged to Exercise Patience, “learn ways of the people”

Bishop John Mbinda of Lodwar Diocese, first-ever Kenyan Spiritan Bishop vested in Turkana attire. Credit: ACI Africa

The newly ordained Bishop of Lodwar Diocese in Kenya, the first-ever Kenyan member of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans) to be consecrated Bishop, has been urged to exercise patience in his Episcopal Ministry, striving to “learn the ways of the people” of God in his Diocese.

In an interview with ACI Africa on the sidelines of the Episcopal Ordination of Bishop John Mbinda, Bishop Augustine Ndeliakyama Shao invited his confrere in the episcopate to allow the Holy Spirit to guide his Episcopal Ministry, “and not force things”.

“I'm inviting the new Bishop to be patient, learn the ways of the people especially their language because there is no culture outside the language of the people,” Bishop Shao said during the June 3 interview, the eve of the Episcopal Consecration of his Kenyan confrere.

Bishop Augustine Ndeliakyama Shao of Tanzania's Zanzibar Diocese. Credit: ACI Africa

The Tanzanian Catholic Bishop who has been at the helm of Zanzibar Diocese since his Episcopal Ordination in April 1997 underscored the value of language in the process of evangelization saying, “If you don’t learn the language, you are out of the culture; because culture itself is the language.”


Addressing himself to Bishop Mbinda as a native of Kenya’s Machakos Diocese, Bishop Shao said, “The word of God that he is going to preach is mixed with culture. So, he has to bear that in mind. He is not coming to impose his Kamba culture here; he is coming to live the Lodwar culture.” 

Bishop Mbinda will need to “learn the Turkana language and gradually try to get the values in their culture,” he further said.

Credit: ACI Africa

The 70-year-old Bishop cautioned the new Bishop against rushing to make changes in the Kenyan Episcopal See, but instead allow the changes to “come from within”.

“A missionary be should bearable person, patient to wait for the right moment for the Spirit to work and not force things,” Bishop Shao said, and added, “The gospel message will make the people know it clearly and they will say we want a change here.”

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He continued, “The people will help you to change anything only when they become part of it, (and when you are) part of the culture, part of the people.”

Credit: ACI Africa

Bishop Mbinda is the second Spiritan Bishop in Kenya. Archbishop John Joseph McCarthy, the first Archbishop of Nairobi Archdiocese, was the first Spiritan Bishop in the East African nation. He was ordained a Bishop in October 1946 and assigned the Titular See of Cercina; the Irish-born Spiritan was appointed Archbishop of Nairobi in March 1953.

Celebrated as a visionary leader who “evangelized with education”, building over 30 schools and training Colleges, places of worship such as the Holy Family minor Basilica, and establishing health centers including the Mater Hospital, Archbishop JJ McCarthy retired in October 1971 at the age of 75.


The hard work and vision of the Spiritan Archbishop influenced the writing of the book, “Archbishop John Joseph McCarthy: A Visionary and Dedicated Missionary.”

Authored by members of the Assumption Sisters of Nairobi (ASN), one of the Religious Institutes that Archbishop JJ McCarthy founded, the book offers the first ever detailed account of the Irish-born Spiritan missionary who came to the African continent when traditional worship dominated the continent’s religious space, and left behind a vibrant people of God.

Following his Episcopal Ordination on June 4, the first-ever Kenyan Spiritan Bishop who was appointed the Local Ordinary of Lodwar on April 4 has succeeded 60-year-old Bishop Dominic Kimengich, the Local Ordinary of Kenya’s Eldoret Diocese who was transferred in November 2019.

In a letter addressed to Bishop Mbinda, the Superior General of the Spiritans, Fr. Alain Mayama, said, “It is a source of great honor and pride for our Congregation, for your Spiritan confreres in Kenya and, of course, for your family that you have been chosen as pastoral leader in the local Church in your native country.”

Fr. Alain Mayama, Superior General of the Spiritans. Credit:Courtesy Photo

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Fr. Mayama added, “Your experience in different ministries in the Congregation, which you acquitted so well, combined with your many admirable personal qualities, have equipped you well for the task that lies ahead.”

The Rome-based native of Congo-Brazzaville went on to highlight the relevance of the choice of a Spiritan to become the Bishop of Lodwar, a Northwestern Kenyan region inhabited by pastoralists whose lives are shaped by extreme weather conditions of heatwaves and challenges related to water and food security.

“Our charism as Spiritans lead us to give a special attention to the poor and the excluded in contemporary society, you will bring this particular gift to the people whom you are called to serve in the Diocese of Lodwar,” Fr. Mayama said in his one-page letter dated June 4.

Credit: ACI Africa

He made reference to one of the two founders of the Spiritans, Venerable François-Marie-Paul Libermann, saying, “Dear John, as you begin your ministry in Lodwar, it is important to recall that one of the constant concerns of one of our founders, Fr. Libermann, was to elaborate for his missionaries a program of apostolic holiness, which finds its fullest expression, although unfinished, in his ‘Instructions to Missionaries’ of 1851.”

“In his letters to the Bishops of his Congregation, Fr. Libermann, like another Paul, invites them to rekindle the gift that God has placed in them through the laying on of hands" (2 Tim 1:6) and to support his collaborators in the name of his episcopal charism,” Fr. Mayama said.

Fr. Alain Mayama, Superior General of the Spiritans. Credit:Courtesy Photo

He cited Venerable Libermann as having told Spiritan Bishops to support people’s needs, to “console them in their sorrows and discouragements, encourage them, sustain them in their weaknesses.... You have in you the sovereign power of the priesthood; Jesus sustains you; he has clothed you with his greatness and his power so that you can support those whom he gives you to help (N.D., LX, 168).”

“On behalf of the General Council of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, I wish to congratulate you sincerely on your ordination as Bishop of the Diocese of Lodwar,” Fr. Mayama who is the pioneer African Superior General of the Spiritans said, and added, “The entire Spiritan Congregation throughout the world rejoices with you today as you are ordained to the episcopate.”

Credit: ACI Africa

He continued, “We pray together with and for you that your ministry as Bishop of Lodwar may reflect a compassionate Church that, in the words of Pope Francis, truly warms the hearts of the faithful, walks with them on their life's journey, heals wounds and gives effective witness to God's proximity to his people.”

“Know too that we in the Spiritan Congregation will always accompany you with our prayerful support on your journey as pastor of the people of Lodwar in the years ahead,” the Spiritan Superior General said in his June 4 letter.

May the people of God in the Catholic Diocese of Lodwar, Fr. Mayama said, “be truly blessed under your pastoral leadership and guidance.”

“To the Blessed Virgin Mary, the great Mother of God, I entrust your episcopal ministry: she will guide your steps and will make your work fruitful every day," he said in his letter, which the Provincial Superior of the Spiritans in Kenya and South Sudan, Fr. Dominic Gathurithu, read out during the consecration ceremony on June 4.

In an interview with ACI Africa on the sidelines of the consecration of Bishop Mbinda, the representative of the Holy Father in Kenya described the new Bishop as “a very gifted man” inspired by the Holy Spirit.

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“I know the new Bishop quite well as a Spiritan because basically he was my neighbor in Nairobi and in fact the Nunciature was or is still within the borders of the Parish where he was working,” Archbishop Hubertus van Megen told ACI Africa.

Bishop Mbinda, Archbishop van Megen said, “is a very gifted man. He is a man who was very much inspired by the Holy Spirit; as he is a Spiritan, the Holy Spirit will guide him in doing what Jesus did, that is, to be of service to the poorest of the poor.”

The Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya who doubles as the representative of the Holy Father in South Sudan said that Bishop Mbinda was suitable for Lodwar Diocese “because he worked a long time in Pokot, which is basically just around the corner.” 

“What I would wish for him is that he just continues to do the things the way he does,” Archbishop van Megen said during the June 3 interview.

On his part, Archbishop Maurice Makumba Muhatia of Kisumu Archdiocese welcomed the new Bishop to “the college of Bishops in a special way especially because Lodwar is under the Metropolitan of Kisumu.”

Credit: ACI Africa

“I welcome him to the Metropolitan of Kisumu to join the body of Bishops. And we join together to continue the work of evangelization, sharing all the benefits together, sharing all the challenges together, and also sharing all the sorrows together,” Archbishop Muhatia told ACI Africa June 3.

The Kenyan Bishop who started his Episcopal Ministry in Kenya’s Nakuru Diocese in February 2010 advised the new Bishop to “first of all, take courage, we all began there.”

Bishop Mbinda, he said, “needs to abandon himself completely in the hands of Christ. The new Bishop needs to work closely with the people in his Diocese, the Priests, the Religious Brothers and Sisters and the Laity.”

Credit: ACI Africa

“Normally, these are his strengths. People in the Diocese are the strength of any Bishop and working together with them, actually, 50% of your problems are solved,” the 54-year-old Archbishop who has been at the helm of Kisumu Archdiocese since March 19 said.

Bishop Mbinda “is not alone”, Archbishop Muhatia said, adding that he has “a troop behind him who will assist him as he begins work in the Diocese in spite of the challenges.”

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