The South African Prelate expressed the wish that Kobe’s demise helps those in “Africa to support basketball, to make sure that basketball becomes a sport that can lift our young people from mystery and poverty into the wealth stage.”
Bishop Phalana prayed, “May more and more Africans reach their full potential in basketball.”
Widely considered among the greatest basketball players of all time, Bryant retired in 2016 after a 20-year-career with the Los Angeles Lakers having won five NBA championships, two scoring championships alongside other distinctions to his name.
Born and raised as a Catholic, Bryant got married in the Church in 2001 and was blessed with four daughters. He credited his faith with helping him through a challenging period in his personal life and that of his family.
When he was arrested in 2003 for sexual assault and the matter became public, Bryant went through the ordeal of losing sponsors in the face of criminal charges. He denied allegations of sexual assault but admitted a sexual encounter, Catholic News Agency reported.
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“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter,” Bryant was quoted as apologizing to the women in 2004.
The criminal charges were eventually dropped and in recounting the experience, Bryant said he had been helped by a Catholic priest.
“The one thing that really helped me during that process—I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic—was talking to a priest,” Bryant was quoted as saying.
He had other family challenges including the 2011 incident when his wife, Vanessa Bryant, filed for divorce, which she justified by irreconcilable differences. Bryant did not give up on his marriage. In 2013, Vanessa withdrew the divorce petition she had filed.
“As a longtime fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, and unapologetic fan of Kobe, I am filled with sadness and speechless at a death so surreal and unreal! Though I didn’t personally know him, I have followed him from afar because of his pursuit of excellence, hard work and commitment to the mastery of his basketball craft,” Nigerian-born Fr. Kizito Raphael presently serving in Omaha, Nebraska in the U.S. told ACI Africa.
“He never wore his faith on his sleeve but when it mattered most, he would let the world know how his faith and encounter with a Catholic priest changed the trajectory of his life and empowered him to “let go” and refocus only on the things he could control,” Fr. Raphael recalled.
The U.S.-based Nigerian cleric added, “If there is any consolation in the death Kobe, it is the fact that it was a good ending, and like a good actor and entertainer he bowed out when the ovation was high! Good night to the Mamba.”
Fr. Samuel Nyattaya, a priest heading Caritas of Kenya’s Archdiocese of Kisumu described as “something admirable in him” the fact that “Bryant can openly give tribute to his Catholic faith as the one thing that helped him move past a challenging period of his personal life and the life of his family.”
“This is reminiscent of what Pope Francis calls the LIGHT OF FAITH. He says that once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim. The light of faith is unique: it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence,” the Kenyan cleric explained.
He added, “Isn’t it striking that Bryant admits that it was a priest who helped him to make some important personal realizations during his difficult moments? His turning point was what the priest told him,” Fr. Nyattaya told ACI Africa Monday, January 27.
He expressed appreciation for “the openness with which Bryant shared his experience of that encounter with the priest, an openness which glorifies the role of the priesthood in our life” and concluded, “Just as the priest is reported to have told him ‘to Let it go! Move on!’, may Bryant move on into the eternal mercy of God.”
Meanwhile, for the Kenyan-born Secretary General of the Franciscan Missionaries of St. Joseph (FMSJ), Sr. Brenda Makokha, Bryant is special because he did not let his fame dim his faith practice.
“I must admit my limited knowledge Kobe, but one thing I admire of him is that as a superstar, the fame did not overshadow his call as a committed Catholic, which is attested by the fellow parishioners,” Sr. Makokha told ACI Africa and added, “what stands out most is his devotedness to his family in a society where the family is at threat.”
Being a husband and a dad, Bryant’s belief in the indissolubility of Catholic marriage, Sr. Makokha said, was “demonstrated when the couple called off their divorce and reunited. That's for someone whose Christian background and value are the pillars of his faith.”
“He died at peace with his God. May he enjoy the rewards of eternity. My condolences to his wife and the remaining ‘princesses’ as he always called them,” the London-based FMSJ nun, a native of Kenya’s Kakamega Diocese said.
For the Ghanaian Conventual Franciscan Gabriel Boateng, “what I like about Kobe is his personal discipline. He is a guy who put seriousness in everything he did: in his Catholic faith and in his basketball game, and this discipline of his is what made him famous and very popular. May his soul and all those who died with him Rest in Peace.”
Robert Dela Mawuenyegah of Ghana’s Ss. Anne & Joachim Catholic Church who has been reading tributes to Bryant and his daughter has had his faith challenged.
“My faith has even been challenged when I learnt he attended Mass on Sunday before their tragic death. He demonstrated he had great love for the Catholic faith. I personally admire how he shared stories of how a Catholic Priest guided him during some difficult times. May his wife and children find comfort with the Lord. May the former Laker and father of four find eternal rest with the Lord,” Mawuenyegah told ACI Africa.
Eunice Wesonga, a Kenyan Catholic studying in Australia described Bryant as “a great man no doubt.”
Ms. Wesonga expressed her sympathy with Vanessa Bryant saying, “It's so sad and even more for his wife who didn't just lose a husband but a daughter too. I can't imagine the pain she is going through.”
Hilda Osike, a communications student at the Nairobi-based Tangaza University College and a parishioner at St. Mary’s Parish, Rongai of Kenya’s Ngong diocese, said, “Kobe was a committed catholic who loved his faith. The Catholic church has lost a good Christian. It is sad. We pray that our Almighty God may give them eternal rest and peace to his wife and remaining children.”
“The first thing that struck me was to hear that Kobe Bryant was a believing and practicing Catholic. I usually do not associate celebrities with the Christian faith, talk less of Catholicism. They always seem to me to have one thing in mind, and one thing only – fame and the accompanying wealth,” Martin Jumbam, a Cameroonian Catholic journalist based in Douala told ACI Africa Monday, January 27.
Jumbam said he was “truly” surprised when he learned about the testimony from a Catholic faithful of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach that “they attended Mass with Bryant the morning of the day of this tragic accident. The person even said he stepped aside to let them go ahead of him to receive holy communion.”
“I also heard that at a particularly difficult time of his life, he did confide to a Catholic priest and found solace in the confessional. And here l am, passing judgment on all celebrities as people of little or no faith. Forgive me, Lord,” Jumbam said and made known his prayer, “I pray for the peaceful repose of his soul, of his daughter's soul and the souls of those who were with them.”
“Goodbye artist. Thanks for all those sleepless nights waiting for the Lakers and watching you play,” Laments the Coordinator of the Catholic Youth and Cultural Centre in Cameron’s economic capital, Douala, Didier Nyoumi
“The sports world has lost a legend, but most especially a fervent Catholic Christian. I always used you as a model to teach young people to persevere in life in order to succeed. You were faithful to the Lakers, to basketball and to the world,” he added.
In his death, Bryant’s faith and talent seem to speak loud about the man he was, with many seeing him as an inspiration to future generations across the globe.
Magdalene Kahiu and Jude Atemanke contributed to this story.
Fr. Don Bosco Onyalla is ACI Africa’s founding Editor-in-Chief. He was formed in the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers (Spiritans), and later incardinated in Rumbek Diocese, South Sudan. He has a PhD in Media Studies from Daystar University in Kenya, and a Master’s degree in Organizational Communication from Marist College, New York, USA.