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Kenya’s Oldest Missionary Order Commissions First Lay Associates

Some Lay Spiritan Associates in Kenya pose with Spiritan priests at the end of Holy Mass at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Nairobi, the venue of their official commissioning on February 29, 2020

The first Catholic missionaries to evangelize the East African nation of Kenya, the Congregation of the Holy Spirit (Spiritans), Saturday, February 29 commissioned the first Kenyan lay associates after years of orientation, with those behind the initiative expressing the hope that the new members will help foster the charism of their 317-year-old worldwide religious order among their various relations.

“We feel that these Lay Spiritans who know a lot about our charism can take it to their families, friends and the places where they work,” Fr. John Mbinda who is at the helm of the Spiritans in Kenya and South Sudan told ACI Africa on the sidelines of the Saturday morning event.

The event saw the commissioning of some 140-lay faithful, drawn from various Spiritan-run parishes in Kenya, as Lay Spiritan Associates.

The official commissioning of the laity formed and oriented in the way of life of the Congregation, Fr. Mbinda said, “is going to have a big impact on our role in evangelization and also about our commitment to live as religious in this congregation.” 

“It is important to have a lay group who are going to represent and take the Spiritan charism to the family,” the Kenyan-born cleric underscored and explained, “The family is very key because it is the mother of everything, it is the foundation of faith where we begin learning what faith is.”

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Established to prioritize first evangelization contexts, the marginalized individuals and groups and “places where the Church has difficulty in finding workers,” the Spiritans pioneered Catholic evangelization in Kenya, the first missionaries arriving in the coastal town of Mombasa in 1889.

The decision to engage the laity among its members, Fr. Mbinda explained, is inspired by the Second Vatican Council, which called for active involvement of the laity in the liturgy and apostolic activity of the Church.

“Since the Second Vatican Council, lay people continue to be embraced by various religious congregations to participate in their charisms. This way, the charisms became not properties of the particular congregations but a gift of the Holy Spirit, which can be shared by both ordained and lay people,” Fr. Mbinda told ACI Africa.

On his part, the Chaplain of the Lay Spiritans Associates in Kenya, Ghanaian-born Fr. Isaac Kofi Amponsah-Boateng expressed his joy in succeeding to get together the laity to foster the Spiritan charism.

“It is a happy moment that we are harvesting the first fruit of the seed we began sowing three years ago,” Fr. Amponsah-Boateng told ACI Africa, recalling years of pastoral visits to parishes with Spiritan presence in Kenya to recruit and orient the laity in his congregation’s way of life.

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The just commissioned Lay Spiritan Associates “are going to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way,” he said and added, “Their lives should make people have the zeal and the appetite to become Lay Spiritans, Catholics or Christians.”

He underscored the value of the laity in the ministry of the Church saying, “The Lay Apostolate is very important. The Church cannot go on without them.”

“Our founder did not start the congregation with Priests but with lay people who were later consecrated and became Priests,” he further told ACI Africa at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Parish of Nairobi Archdiocese, the venue of the Saturday event.

“Beyond parish activities that the lay Spiritans will be expected to participate in, this group of lay people will gather annually for prayers,” Fr. Boateng said, adding that the lay missionaries will participate in social programs and excursions and organize workshops in a way that allows members to use their gifts and professions to impact others.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Lay Spiritans in Kenya, Raphael Mutisya Kitavi, described the association as “a continuation of Jesus’ work” that gives members an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the Lord.

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A member of St. Martin de Porres Katheka parish in Kenya’s Machakos diocese, Kitavi sees the Lay Spiritans in Kenya impacting on the family in the face of difficulties in having families founded on faith values.

Caroline Muthiani Mutheu said she joined the Spiritan Lay Association to “win souls to Christ through my actions and words.”

“Being a member of the Association is a service to God, the Church and the Community,” she said and added, “I am looking at how I can help others by giving out in charity because I have many things that I can offer."