Build My Church: Reflections on Life in Kenya
November 4, 2013
In his first homily after his election as Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis—true to his namesake Francis of Assisi—proclaimed the urgent need to build the church. The Holy Father said, “Build up the Church, the Bride of Christ, the cornerstone of which is the same Lord. With [every] movement in our lives, let us build!” The work of building the Church, however, is not the work of just any charity. The work of building the Church must include the profession of Jesus Christ. Pope Francis said, “If we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ. […] When one does not built on solid rocks, what happens? What happens is what happens to children on the beach when they make sandcastles: everything collapses, it is without consistency.” The mission of the Dominican friars serving the people of Kenya in our foreign mission consists of exactly this charge “the work of building up the Church.” Broadly speaking, Kenya is a very religious country and the majority of its citizens are Christians. In fact, an estimated thirty-three percent of Kenyans are baptized Catholics. The Catholic faith, in modern times brought to Kenya by European missionaries, has taken a firm hold. The “building up the Church” in Kenya therefore is less an initial proclamation of the Gospel, and is now a work that’s somewhat harder to see. No longer are missionaries baptizing Kenyans by the thousands; they’re devoted to building up the infrastructure of a fledgling church. The work of the Dominican friars which contributes to “building up the Church” in Kenya begins, as it does here in America, with building strong Dominican communities. Our friars celebrate together the sacrifice of the Mass, gather several times daily for common prayers and share communal meals. This fraternal life of prayer and recreation fosters a lively spirit amongst the brothers, encourages them in their ministries and renews their commitment to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Dominican friars ministering in Kenya apply themselves to teaching university courses at Tangaza College or the Catholic University of East Africa, both institutions located in Nairobi. They serve as chaplains for the campuses of the University of Nairobi. Additionally, the friars have founded Saint Catherine of Siena Parish in Kitisuru, on the outskirts of Nairobi. The pastoral care of this parish includes literally building a worship space, as well as, saying masses and leading study programs in the nearby Kibagare slum. Across the country from Nairobi, in the city of Kisumu, the friars operate a boarding school—Our Lady of Grace—as well as numerous local ministries. With young friars in formation, much care is given to integrating them fully into Dominican life. The Novice Master and Student Master work to instill in them the traditions which make Dominican life so precious. These efforts allow young friars to build upon that firm foundation upon which they will need in their lives as priests of Jesus Christ. Praying for these brothers is an essential way to help them become dedicated servants of the Lord. I had the great privilege of spending the summer in Kenya. While in Nairobi, I worked alongside the Missionaries of Charity at a home they run for girls with disabilities. Thinking about that experience, I must say that home is one of the happiest places on earth. I also spent time in Kisumu where I assisted in a variety of capacities at Our Lady of Grace School and giving talks elsewhere in the community. Looking back on the summer, I’m particularly grateful for the welcome offered by the brothers of the Vicariate and the opportunity for an immersion into African culture.