Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 16, 2003
Oblates live their prayer in Africa
Canadians practice their faith amidst life's harsh realities
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
Many moons ago, I travelled to Kenya in central Africa on behalf of the Oblate Conference of Canada to explore the possibilities of starting a new mission there.
The bishop of the Diocese of Meru in Kenya had asked our Oblate administration in Rome for missionaries for his diocese. I had always felt that the Oblates of Canada could easily spare a few men to offer some Third World Church our support for their missions.
So positive negotiations on all parts resulted in my joining a delegation of three Oblates, one representing our administration in Rome, an Oblate provincial from South Africa representing the Oblates of Africa, and myself, then provincial superior of Grandin Province in Edmonton.
Bishop Silas Njiru of Meru, Kenya, was most welcoming. He proposed that we should visit three missions and choose any one of them. He hoped we would prefer Kyonio in the mountain area, but he offered us also a well-established mission in an agricultural area that reminded me of Alberta's southern foothills. A third place was Bulesa, another strong mission in a semi-desert area with people living mostly off their herds of cattle.
The Oblates accepted the bishop's first choice and have been thriving there since 1997, serving nearly a dozen chapels besides the main church, in a beautiful mountainous area in the shadows of impressive Mount Kenya that rivals the best that we muster in our Canadian Rockies.
Besides bringing Christianity to the people, the bishop believes profoundly in bringing them what he calls "the social Gospel" which is another term for development in the areas of education, health care, water resources and food through agricultural programs.
In Bulesa, among the poorest people of the country, Bishop Silas has established a primary school for some 400 children who are fed three meals a day by the mission - with no government help.
One evening at suppertime I saw a woman hanging around outside the dining room. Soon a 10-year-old boy came out and gave her his plate of food. She was the boy's mother and the plate he shared with her was her only food that day.
In Bulesa there is also a junior high school as well as a residential senior high school for both boys and girls. These are supported to a small degree by the parents, but most of the support comes from Italian benefactors. This high school is among the best in the country and many parents from far afield try to have their children accepted there.
Health care is also a concern of the bishop. In all the missions of the diocese there's a Church clinic with a trained nurse and often a doctor who provide life-saving remedies, while the regular government-sponsored clinics rarely have medicine as it's stolen and sold on the black market before it gets to its destination.
One day, while visiting a remote area of the parish with the local pastor, a woman begged the priest to visit her sick 10-year-old boy. The pastor quickly identified the sickness as malaria and brought mother and child to the mission clinic where the boy's life was saved. In Meru where the bishop lives, the Church is running a 600-bed hospital, as well as a nursing school that graduates over 100 nurses each year.
Another involvement of the Church is to provide water for the people, especially by digging wells and even building dams on a river to provide irrigation to areas where it was impossible to live because of the lack of water. Because of it, people are allowed small plots of land where they can grow their own food.
The Canadian Oblates who have joined Bishop Silas' mission field are providing the diocese with much needed support in bringing about the knowledge of the faith. They are also supporting fully the bishop's "social Gospel," living out in concrete ways Jesus' teachings: "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me" (Matthew 31:35-36).
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