Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Africa

October 28, 2013, the Feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude

   Well, as hard as it is for me to believe, this will be the final post for this journey.  The African Adventure, as I have come to think of it, is coming to an end. 

   Today was a leisurely day.  Bishop Dominic, Msgr. Mike, Sr. Pauline (Bishop Dominic's Secretary) and I celebrated Mass for today's great Feast of the Apostles Simon and Jude.  It was quite a blessing for Bishop Dominic and I, as Successors to the Apostles each of us in our own part of the universal Church, to celebrate, in a sense, our "Feast Day" together on this, our final day here in Kenya.  After Mass, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast.   After breakfast, and a little time for rest, we traveled into the city of Kitali to visit the bank for some currency exchange, the supermarket to do a little shopping (this Supermarket, by the way, was like a version of Meijer's or Walmart)----it had everything from groceries to electronics to clothes  for women, men and children, to furniture.  After that, we returned to St. Martin House for a nice lunch, followed by a little more time for rest.  In late afternoon, we went to visit the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here in the Diocese of Kitali, and visited their religious goods store.  We met a wonderful Irish priest, a member of an Irish Missionary group (the Priests of St. Patrick) which at one time, had many priests working here.  He is 88 years old and has been in Kenya as a missionary since 1955.  He was telling us that he recalls when there were only four Catholic Churches in all of Kenya; now, there are eight dioceses in Kenya.  That is a great summary of the growth of the Catholic Church here in Africa over the last 60 years.  We then went to the Bishop's House to have a visit with Bishop Maurice Crowley, the Bishop of Kitali.  He was a very personable, and laid-back Irishman (from County Cork), but he has been a missionary here in Kenya for the past 40+ years.  Fifteen years ago, when the Diocese of Kitali was established, he was ordained the first Bishop of Kitali, and has been the Bishop ever since.  We had a wonderful hour-long visit as he gave us many insights into the life of the Catholic Church here in this Diocese. After the visit, we returned to the St. Martin House where Bishop Dominic, Msgr. Mike and I prayed Evening Prayer together, and then we had our final delicious meal.

   I have mentioned our meals consistently.  I certainly had no idea what to expect in terms of food when I arrived here in Kenya.  I have to say that we have been fed very well.  However, the diet here is much more healthy than ours in the United States.  I have only had a meal once or twice during this whole time that served any kind of dessert other than fruit.  Breakfast usually consists of cereal, brown/whole wheat bread, and oftentimes a hard-boiled or fried egg.  The midday meal and the evening meal have been very similar:  usually boiled white rice, sometimes potatoes (either whole roasted or even french fried [which they call "chips"]), some kind of meat (which has oftentimes been goat [I know---that doesn't sound that good, but it was quite tasty], or chicken, though we have also enjoyed ham and some beef), and here and there, fish (served whole, with head/eyes/tail) or fried---and mostly Tilapia), occasionally a "pancake"-like bread, and always vegetables----spinach-like vegetable called "siwashi" (or something similar to that), cabbage, peas, carrots, and usually some kind of fruit.  Every once in a while, like tonight, we have even had pasta. And of course, there are no sweets or snacks of any sort.  
   I get the feeling that we have been fed much more than what people are used to, or able to afford to, eat in normal circumstances.  At the dinner following the final Mass we celebrated in Kainuk, I made the mistake of asking one of the Sisters a typically Western-minded question:  which meal of the day (assuming there were 3 meals) is the one that is considered the "main meal".  She looked at me very quizzically and said that there is really only one meal a day---late in the evening. 

   It's hard to believe that this Pastoral Visit has come to an end.  Bishop Dominic has been the premier host:  he came all the way to Nairobi to meet us, and has been with us throughout our journey through the Massai Mara, to Elderod, and then to Lodwar; he was with us all the way through every stop in Lodwar; and now he is bringing us back to Elderot and even driving us to the airport tomorrow morning.  I could not be more grateful to him, and to all the people of the Diocese of Lodwar for their hospitality.  "Hospitality" is a key quality for all Kenyans.  They are proud of their country and their culture, and the word you hear all the time is:  "Karibu", or "Welcome!"  I have never been made to feel more welcome than I have for these past 10 days or so.  I have missed all the faithful people of the Diocese of Kalamazoo (and all my family/friends) very much, and I very much look forward to my return.  However, I realize that I am returning "home" a different person than when I came; I am returning "home" with different, broadened perspectives; I am returning "home" with a greater pride in the Catholic Church of which we are all a part, in particular the work of the Church here among the people of Turkana County, Diocese of Lodwar in the country of Kenya in this great continent of Africa; I am returning "home" inspired, enlightened, enriched, encouraged by what I have seen and experienced; I am returning "home" re-invigorated to be less focused on what is wrong, and more focused on what is good; to be less worried about what we don't have, and more thankful for all our blessings; to be less concerned with the problems that we have and more willing to build on the wonderful opportunities that we have---the privilege that is ours----in fact, the huge responsibility that has been given to us to Preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world.  For as Jesus has told us, in no uncertain terms:  "To those to whom much has been given, much will be required."  After these 10 days, visiting our sister diocese and her Shepherd, Bishop Dominic Kimengich, I feel the bond that exists between us in the faith that unites us.   After these 10 days, being away from our homeland, realizing how "much has been given to us", I ask God to bless me, and all of us, to be responsible and faithful stewards, as we give thanks and praise to our God by living together as His Loving Family----as God has intended from the beginning of time.

   While I have been away for this long period of time from the Church in Kalamazoo, you have been in my daily thoughts and prayers.  Please pray for Msgr. Mike, Fr. John Peter and me for safety in our travels back to the United States, and our beloved Kalamazoo.  And I ask that all of you make a resolution to add the Church in Lodwar, and her shepherd, Bishop Dominic, to your daily prayer intentions.

    Asking God's blessings upon us all, through the intercession of Saints Simon and Jude, and as always under the Loving Protection of our dear Blessed Mother, I am

                                  Faithfully yours in Christ,

                                  Bishop Paul J. Bradley

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ordinary Time with Extraordinary people: journey to Kitali

Sunday, October 27, 2013---the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today, as we join with our fellow Catholics throughout the world to celebrate the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, I awoke with the realization that this is our last day in the Diocese of Lodwar. Later this afternoon, we will travel to Kitali, a city about a three hour drive from Kainuk, and stay there until our flight to Nairobi on Tuesday.

As I mentioned, Kainuk is at the very southern part of the Diocese of Lodwar. About three miles from Kainuk is a huge mountain which indicates the border with the neighboring diocese, the Diocese of Kitali. Today, here in Kainuk, is a very special day. Not only is it the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, but it is a historic day as people from Kainuk, from Kitali, and two other distant locations from other directions have arranged to celebrate today as Prayer for Peace day. The "peace" that is being prayed for is an end to the violence of the local "gangs"---which sounds a lot more like organized crime. Young people from each of the "sides" raid the other "side" not only to steal animals, but also in recent years to kill the innocent shepherds and herdsmen indiscriminately, whether they are men, women or children. Msgr. Mike and I are blessed to be here to be able to participate in the Peace Rally.

Following an early time of Morning Prayer with all the priests and a quick breakfast, the very prayerful procession made up of the people of all ages from Kainuk began at 7:15 a.m., processing to the agreed upon meeting place where the other groups would meet us. Along the way, we sang, prayed the rosary (multiple times) in Swahili (well, they prayed in Swahili; I prayed in English). About 8:00 a.m. we arrived at our meeting place about 2 miles down the road. After waiting only a short time, a bus appeared coming from the other direction, bringing a busload of people from Kitali (which, as I mentioned, is a three hour drive away), and a number of priests who had come, also from the Diocese of Kitali, from their parishes in the surrounding mountainsides.

When all had gathered, there were probably 300 people now a part of the procession, which turned around and processed back down the road into Kainuk, again, praying and singing all the way. We processed right through the busy market place of Kainuk while people stood and watched. Finally the procession ended up in the church hall where people were able to get "Chai tea." Since it had been so hot, already in those early hours, the "tea time" gave me time to change my wet clothes for dry ones to get ready for Mass. The Mass started close to 11:00 a.m., and finished sometime after 2:00 p.m. Once again, it was a Mass that was joyful, festive, filled with dancing and processing and singing, but with great love and devotion to the Word of God and the Holy Eucharist. It was quite a "final Mass" for Msgr. Mike and I to participate in as our lasting memory of our time in the Diocese of Lodwar.

After the Prayer after Communion came the talks and speeches from those who had helped to organize this special Celebration of Prayer for Peace, which took well over an hour. At the end of that, Bishop Dominic kindly asked me to address the people. Since the only Swahili that I have mastered is "Praised be Jesus Christ; now and forever"---a greeting that everyone uses when they begin to speak, I too began with that greeting. The speaker says: "Praised be Jesus Christ"; the people answer "Now and forever". Then the speaker says: "Now and forever"; and the people answer: "Praised be Jesus Christ". It's a beautiful custom. This is how it goes in Swahili: "Tum-si-fuYesu Kristo; da-i-ma na mi-le-le; Daima na milele; tumsifu Yesu Kristo". Isn't that beautiful?!

I spoke to them about how vibrant and faith-filled their participation in the Mass was, and how inspiring that is to me. I told them that in the U.S., people are usually unhappy when the Mass lasts more than an hour; but here, we had been together already three hours, and everyone was very happy. I told them that Bishop Dominic had taken us to every part of the Diocese of Lodwar, and I had been able to see for myself the joys and the sorrows that the people of this Diocese are experiencing, from issues of a lack of basic necessities of life, such as food and water, to the problems with "insecurity" and fear of violence as the people here in Kainuk were living in. I told them that they should be proud that what makes the difference in each of those situations is the presence of the Church: not just the work of Bishop Dominic, the priests and the sisters, but the work and involvement of them as dedicated lay faithful, putting their faith into action I also spoke with them about our two Dioceses---though in many ways we are very different, that it is what we were doing here in the celebration of the Eucharist that unites us---that makes us true sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ. It was truly a beautiful celebration.

I've been wanting to say a word about the priests and the sisters whom we have met here in the Diocese of Lodwar. I have not met anyone that is not filled with joy and is truly a happy spirit, in spite of the great challenges they have to deal with---the extreme conditions that they have to bring God's Word to these wonderful people. One of the priests who was present for the Mass was Father Barry. He was the pastor of the parish that was located on the mountain that we could see from the parish where we were. When Msgr. Mike and I were standing outside after the Mass, Fr. Barry came over and pointed to the mountain with pride and said: "There is my parish.” I commented that it looked like a difficult place to get around, and he agreed. He went on to say that there are many parts of his parish that have no roads, but that he must walk to them on foot. I said how difficult that must be, and he said that was no problem; that he enjoyed doing that. The Guadalupe Missionary Priests there at the parish in Kainuk are also amazing and happy men. They have a wonderful fraternal spirit among them, and they truly love their people. And the Sisters are the same way---all the Sisters I have met here are clearly "in love with God---and God's People.” It's truly heartwarming to see. I pray that this visit will also challenge me to be less focused on the difficulties or the challenges of what I am called to do, and more focused on the great privilege I have been given to bring Christ's Word and His Presence to all the people in Kalamazoo.

When the Mass was over, there was a dinner for all who came. Then, we had to quickly get ready to leave, and load the car with our suitcases, and say our farewells. It was somewhat emotional, knowing that this was our last visit on what has been a truly amazing and life-changing and spiritually-enriching 10 days. Many of the people crowded around the car and danced, waved and sang us out of the parish compound as we left the parish and the Diocese of Lodwar.

The road to Kitali for the first two hours was possibly worse than many of the other roads. We actually saw a family of baboons along the way. And as we traveled up and over the mountains, the weather also began to change from very hot, to cool here in Kitali. It's a very different part of Kenya. We arrived at St. Martin Diocesan House here in Kitali about 6:45 p.m., freshened up a bit, had a nice dinner with Bishop Dominic, his secretary, a religious Sister, and Lucas our trusty driver. And then it was time to put this day, and this great adventure, to bed.

Confirmation Celebration in Swahili

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Unintentionally, today began very early with the crowing of a rooster right outside my window----literally.  He began "cock-a-doodle-doo-ing" at 4:00 a.m., and continued every 10 minutes (just like a snooze alarm, without having set one) until....I have no idea when he stopped.  So, in light of the oppressive heat that made for a relatively sleep-less night and the cock-a-doodle-doing of the rooster, I was up very early and ready for this new day.  We joined with the Guadalupe Fathers for Morning Prayer at 7:00 a.m., followed by Breakfast.  The 9:00 a.m. Mass to celebrate Confirmation was also a Mass to celebrate the Solemnity of the Parish Patron, All Saints.  Bishop Dominic gave permission to transfer the upcoming Feast just five days away to be celebrated for this special occasion.  Even though the Mass was scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m., I have been helped to realize that Kenyan time is a "more-or-less-precise" kind of thing.  In fact, the Guadalupe Fathers told me that there is a Kenyan tradition that says as long as the event starts somewhere within the hour of 9:00 a.m., it is considered to be on time.  However, we began our 9:00 a.m. Mass around 9:20 a.m.  We didn't finish until almost 1:00 p.m.   So, you can see that there was much to celebrate. 

Processions are a very big deal in African/Kenyan Eucharistic celebrations.  There is the pre-Mass procession and singing/dancing; then there is the Entrance Procession in, and then the Entrance Procession back out again; there is a procession that goes on during the Penitential Rite.  Following the Opening Prayer, there is a very joyful Procession to bring in the Scriptures for the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word, culminating in joyful applause when the Priest holds up the Scriptures for all to see.  There is a Procession for the collection; there is a Procession with the Preparation of the Gifts; there is a Procession of Thanksgiving following Holy Communion; and of course there is the Closing Procession at the end of Mass.  Each of the processions are accompanied by much singing, dancing, clapping, jumping and whistle-blowing. It is all quite festive, and yet at the same time, so deeply respectful. 

Today's Mass was celebrated in Swahili, with parts of it (for example Bishop Dominic's Homily) being translated into Turkana (the local language for those who don't know Swahili, let alone English).  Because of that, I simply con-celebrated, though I had the great privilege of being able to actually confirm (in English) half of the 35 Confirmandi, with Bishop Dominic, of course, confirming the other half. 

After the Prayer after Communion, there was an hour's worth of acknowledgements/talks/speeches, including Msgr. Mike and I being able to offer our "two shillings worth" as well.  Finally the Mass was concluded.  Once again, no one left in the middle, or right after communion.  The faith of these people is quite inspirational.

After Mass, we had a nice lunch, and a little rest.  Bishop Dominic was taking advantage of his Parish Visit to meet with the Parish Council.  Toward the end of that meeting, Msgr. Mike and I joined the meeting and spoke a bit about our Diocese and the similarities, and differences, we face.  I was quite impressed with how well they have entered into the Parish Council process.  At the end of the meeting, a group of young children from the parish known as the Pontifical Mission Society Children entertained us with a number of their native songs and dancing. 

When the meeting was over, Bishop Dominic, Msgr. Mike, and one of the Guadalupe Fathers, Father Riccardo, and I stopped to visit the three Sisters who are stationed here at the parish:  two of them teach in the Catholic-sponsored primary school (which is quite large---about 300 students; there is also another Catholic-sponsored school ----a secondary school----here at the Parish which is equally as large; the 3rd Sister does Pastoral Work for the Parish.  These Sisters are Sisters of Nazareth whose motherhouse is not far from Nairobi.  After our brief visit with the Sisters, we came back to the Rectory to have a nice dinner, joined by two young women from Mexico who are Guadalupe Lay Missionaries, and found a good bit of our dinner conversation focusing on the similarities and the differences of Mexico, Kenya and the United States.  If nothing more during this trip, I have found, I hope and pray, that there are far more similarities between the various nations of the world to unite us than there are differences to divide us. 

A Rocky Road leads to many examples of the Church's love for the people

 Friday, October 25, 2013

Today we left Lodwar and our wonderful "oasis" that the St. Teresa Diocesan Pastoral Center served for us over the past few days.  We also left Father John Peter there.  He was not able to come with us on this final leg of our journey; he has decided to return to Nairobi early on Sunday so that he can participate in a special celebration there with his community members of the Missionaries of St. Francis de Sales.  Msgr. Mike and I will not reconnect with him until we return to Nairobi this coming Tuesday. 

When we met with the Lodwar Diocesan Staff this past Monday, and Bishop Dominic shared with them our itinerary for the next week/10 days, and mentioned that our destination on Friday was to Kainuk, Brother Louie, the Director of the Finance Department, said:  "Oh my, that's either the "road from hell or the road to hell.”  Well, I'm not sure if it was "to" or "from", but after having traveled it, I can assure you that of all the bad roads we have been on, this one was the most "hellish.”  Even with such a wonderful driver as Bishop Dominic has in Lucas, we were not able to go much faster than about 15 miles/hour.  On top of that, towards the end of the six-hour drive, it rained---which is a good thing because everyone needed and wanted the rain; but it also turned the dusty, rocky roads into muddy, slick roads all of a sudden.  Along the way, we made a couple of stops for pastoral visits. 

Our first stop after about two hours of driving was at a parish by the name of Christ the King, to visit the priests who provided us with a wonderful lunch.  These priests are Comboni Priests and Brothers (also known as Verona Fathers).  One of these priests is Father John Kennedy Owambo, who visited Kalamazoo a little more than a year ago at Sr. Maureen's invitation to give presentations about the desperate need for Water here in this Diocese of Lodwar.  I attended his presentation at that time, so it was very nice to see him again.  Of course, since he had stayed at St. Joseph Rectory in Kalamazoo with Msgr. Hazard, they got a chance to renew their friendship. 

After Lunch, we walked across the compound to visit the John Paul II School for Children with Disabilities.  This beautiful institution is operated by a group of Sisters, with the help of a very dedicated staff.   There was a special department there that specializes in making prosthetics for those with amputations or other such maladies.  I could not help but think of my nephew Adam who does this work as his profession.  It requires precision, artistic ability and great compassion, all qualities that my nephew has, and that the young man in charge of this department clearly has as well.  While most of the children were off attending schools (which is a sign, I'm assuming, of what we know as "mainstreaming"), there were a group of children who were present, and came gathering around us, giving hugs to Bishop Dominic, me and everyone of us present.  These children range in age from very young---perhaps 5 or 6, all the way up to teenagers and young adults; their disabilities range from mild/moderate to severe and profound.  These children, dealing as they are with their own limitations, were not in any way limited in their capacity to be joyful, with beautiful smiles, and wonderful, angelic voices as they sang for us several songs they had rehearsed.  It was heartbreaking, but at the same time, quite heartwarming.   This is the only type of school for children with disabilities in the entire County of Turkana, private or public; once again, how good to see the Church providing for this most important human, spiritual and pastoral need.  After our goodbyes and farewell hugs, we continued our journey to Kainuk.

We got back on the road and prepared for the second half of our trip. The roads got even worse if that was possible.  As I mentioned above, it started to rain, which was quite unexpected, though in this southern part of Turkana County, I am told, the drought is not as bad as in the northern part.  That is clearly evident with the abundance of additional vegetation of all kinds, and a wide variety of crops that are growing. This rain was a drenching rain for the better part of an hour, which made the journey that much more difficult due to the condition of the roads. 

Just before nightfall, we arrived at All Saints Parish, staffed by a group of priests from Mexico known as the Guadalupe Fathers.  There are three priests assigned here right now, plus the regional superior also happens to be here for a visit. So we got to meet all four of these dedicated men and enjoyed a delicious dinner, wonderful conversation about the circumstances of the people living in this area, and prayed evening prayer together in their very nice chapel.  There is also a school here operated by a group of Sisters, who we have not yet met.  We will celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation tomorrow morning for a group of the village children (over which Bishop Dominic will preside since it will be in Swahili).  We will stay here through Sunday, when we will have a Prayer for Peace service and procession, culminating in Mass on Sunday.

All Saints Parish in Turkana, Kenya
All Saints Parish

Photos courtesy of Guadalupe Missionaries website

As we were introducing ourselves, and they understood that we were from the Diocese of Kalamazoo in Michigan, they immediately began to rave about the great work that our Father Ken Schmidt and Sharon Froom did when they were here in the Diocese of Lodwar about a year ago to conduct the diocesan Trauma Recovery program for the priests of this Diocese.  They spent a great amount of time talking about how professional and capable Father Ken and Sharon were, and how desperately they were in need of just what they brought to them due to the painful circumstances that the priests of this Diocese were dealing with at that time.    And this was not the first time during our time here in the Diocese of Lodwar that people were recalling the great work of Father Ken, Sharon, and the Trauma program; the Diocese of Lodwar staff also recalled their presence, and one of the priests here in particular was also complimenting Father Ken's work when he was here most recently with Father Robert.  We all should be very proud of the work that the Trauma Recovery program is doing around the world, not just in our own Diocese of Kalamazoo. 

The priests also were telling us that in this part of the Diocese, tensions are very, very high.   The Turkana people here do mostly shepherding work with goats and cattle. There are people, as they say "on the other side" (meaning, on the other side of the river which separates the two people----they are not Turkana people; they are people of a different Tribe, something like Protto.  For generations these two groups have raided each other's livestock; however the difference is that in recent years, people have AK-47s, rather than spears or knives, and the violence has escalated and has become more indiscriminate.  We have been told that in the daylight, we will see people openly carrying weapons around.  The Government seems to "turn its head"; therefore, it is the Church who is the only one who can try to mediate, just as the Church is doing in many other parts of this Diocese near border areas, or other places where the tradition has been fighting and violence.  Please pray for the work of these fine priests and the dedicated people who work with them.  And please pray for Bishop Dominic who leads this effort to work for Peace, among these two groups of people, and for Peace throughout the world.   

Friday, October 25, 2013

A sad day filled with hope

Thursday, October 24: 

Today must be recorded as the saddest day of our Pastoral Visit to our "sister Diocese"----and yet, a day that has also been filled with cause for joy and hope in the light of the great work of the Church here in this most destitute part of the Diocese of Lodwar. 

   As you may recall from yesterday's post, we are in the northern-most part of the Diocese visiting one of the parishes which is staffed by priests and committed lay members of the Congregation of Missionaries of St. Paul the Apostle (CMSPA).  Where we spent the night is an "outstation" of this parish, known as Our Lady Queen of Peace, which is situated near Lake Turkana, and near the Ethiopian border.  Due to years of conflict, surrounding fishing rights on the Lake and a number of other issues, there is a sense of distrust, and there are occasional violent outbreaks between these two nations.  Because of that, we encountered a much greater police and military presence in this area; we also saw individuals---shepherds, fishermen, regular parents of children----armed with guns in light of these tensions.  The Turkana people living in far northern Kenya refer to the Ethiopians as "the enemy.”   The Church's role has been to be peacemakers/reconcilers/teachers of the true meaning of the Gospel of love, forgiveness, and peace. 

   Following a challenging night's sleep due to the heat that never seemed to subside (and of course no fans), we arose for the celebration of Mass with the 45 or so boys and girls who attend the boarding school here.  It happened to be "Parents' Day,” and so a large number of the parents of these children also came for Mass, and then they participated in a number of meetings organized among themselves, to discuss school issues; kind of like a School Board.  (The big difference is that most of them came with their guns.)  The children participated beautifully in the Mass, which Bishop Dominic celebrated, concelebrated by myself, Father John Peter, the two CMSPA priests, Fathers Stephen and Andrew, and Father Lance who is a Maryknoll priest who was visiting the parish but who normally teaches at one of the universities in Nairobi (and is an American from New York).  Following the Mass and a nice breakfast which followed, we visited the classrooms.  At present, there are only three grades here, but the hope is that this school will grow into a full 8 grades, and perhaps someday, a secondary school.  We also visited all the various projects that these priests have organized here in this "compound":  they have built a windmill to harness energy to pump water from the nearby Lake Turkana to bring for irrigation of the crops and plants that they are growing; they have created a process whereby they turn cow dung into gas to power the "compound" (which is still in process, but has great potential); they have large numbers of trucks and other vehicles to help them in the big projects of building sand dams and drilling for water holes; and they operate a medical dispensary to provide medicines and other treatments for the people.  These priests and committed lay members not only "teach" the Gospel; they truly put the Gospel into daily practice.  

   After visiting throughout the compound, we began a trip to the Ethiopian border.  Along the way, we stopped to visit at several of the military "check points" along the way.  Father Stephen has built up strong relationships with the military/police on both "sides", and helps them to see that the Church does not take sides, and is only interested in helping whoever is in need.  We finally reached the village which is actually just over the border in Ethiopia.  Before meeting with the people, Father Stephen drove us around the outskirts of the village.  Due to a lack of food, and no grass for grazing, the cattle are all dying.  We saw dead carcasses everywhere; the stench (and therefore the serious health risks to the people) was overwhelming.  We saw one cow, still alive, but clearly about to die, right before us.  The people themselves are sick, weak, and distressed.  Outside the village, under a shade tree, still on Kenyan soil, the elders/men were waiting for us.  They were tired, dejected, and discouraged; they barely recognized our presence.  However, when we got out, they respectfully paid attention while Father Stephen spoke to them, and then invited Bishop Dominic, Father Lance, and me to address the men to try to offer some words of encouragement.  As we were completing our time with them, a group of Ethiopian officials arrived (with armed guards) to have a pre-arranged meeting with the elders.  I'm not exactly sure what the nature of that meeting was supposed to be, but it seemed to be cordial.  The leaders were all extremely warm and respectful, as we met each one of them. 

Having completed our visit, we began to return to the compound for lunch before beginning our return trip to Lodwar.  It was quite sad to see the plight of these people, and to realize that no one----except for the Church----is doing anything to help them.   We should all feel quite proud of the work that is being done by the members of the CMSPA, in the name of the Church, under the direction of dear Bishop Dominic. 

   After lunch, we packed up and began our 4 1/2 hour drive back to Lodwar.  The "roads" in this part of the Diocese are pretty much non-existent; they are more or less "paths" through the sandy desert, and through the dried up river beds, with stones/rocks everywhere as far as the eye can see.  There were many camels in this part of the Diocese, and of course, the omnipresent goats.  We arrived back at St. Teresa's Diocesan Pastoral Center around 6:30 p.m. and were happy to see Msgr. Mike feeling a bit better.  Covered with dust and grime from the trip, we were anxious to freshen up before dinner, and then, a good night's sleep. 

   I know that my prayer list is growing each and every day that I am here, as is my awareness of the extremely harsh realities of life that so many of the members of our human family----brothers and sisters in Christ---live each and every day.  May God bless each and every one of them, and may God strengthen those here in the Diocese of Lodwar, from Bishop Dominic, to all the priests, and committed/devoted lay faithful, who are doing the work of Christ in bringing the Gospel to the least of our brothers and sisters.  Amen.

Photos sent from Fr. John Peter:

Thursday, October 24, 2013

And now a word from Msgr. Mike...

Greetings from really, really, really HOT Lodwar, Kenya.

This is a most interesting place, very different from our own circumstances. Here, WATER is the thing, first and last.  Fr. Joseph, administrator of the Cathedral parish, has many "out-stations" to serve. He finds a way to visit each of them every two weeks. On Sunday afternoon we went to visit one of them, Kapua (Kah-POO-ah), which was founded one year ago.  About 100 indigenous Turkana people came to their simple church of sticks and palm fronds to greet us. Many of these people walked miles to acknowledge the visitors.  As we alit from our vehicle, a group of about 30 women all sort of dancing together, closely packed into a unit, came marching toward us and chanting.  They surrounded us and while continuing to dance around us, one after another of them would approach us (still dancing) and throw onto our shoulder the furry end of a cow's tail (which they kept in their hand) as a signal of honor.

Eventually they had us all dancing and springing up and down while they sang and sang and sang.  We have the video.

Well this grouping of people from 5,6,8? small settlements in the region was made possible by providing them with a well where they could get water for themselves and their livestock--something it seems like the government should be doing, but the Church actually IS.  These people are hearing the message of Jesus for the first time--because the Catholic Church with its resources and contacts can do, and does, what is needed to relieve these people of their most urgent need: water.

One last thing. We were overwhelmed by the generosity of these people who gave us 6 goats, 2 chickens, some small brooms and numerous other hand-fashioned household utensils (wooden spoons, scoops, gourds for keeping water, etc.). I am not bringing any of the livestock home, though I hope to get my hands on one of the little brooms.

All for now.

I look forward to seeing you all soon.

Msgr. Mike

Schools and missions and crocodiles, oh my!

October 23, 2013

Today has been a very long day---in fact, it's a day that has not ended yet. Let me explain.

As usual, Msgr. Mike, Father John Peter and I began our day with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the Chapel at the Diocesan Pastoral Center with Father John Peter being our main celebrant. We continue, each day, to pray for all of you who we know are praying for us.

Following breakfast, Bishop Dominic came to pick us up to go and visit one of the Diocese's new Catholic Schools, Our Lady Queen of Peace for girls. Eventually it will be a boarding school, and in fact, those buildings are under construction. But the day-school is open, and 65 girls in grades First through Third make up the current student body.

Bishop Dominic has explained to me how this school differs from all their other schools. There are more than 150 what are called "Catholic-sponsored" schools, which have been started by the Diocese, and which the Diocese has some control over, but then they must be turned over, by Kenyan law ( I believe) to the government to run----kind of like our public schools. They follow the same curriculum, though Bishop Dominic says that they can still teach religion, etc.
This new school for girls, and one ore for boys that has also just begun, will not be turned over by the government, so they are truly the first Catholic Schools in the Diocese. We met the principal, who is a Religious Sister, and the four teachers/staff, and the 65 beautiful girls performed a number of songs for us. It was quite a wonderful experience.

We then went to the Diocesan Offices for a brief time. Msgr. Mike decided that, due to a "bug" he had picked up, that he would stay back from the day's activities which promised to be quite demanding. So, after leaving him there to rest, Bishop Dominic, Father John Peter and I set out for what is called the Spanish mission in the far northern part of the Diocese. It was a trip that took well over three hours on very poor roads, but once we arrived, it was like coming into an oasis literally in the middle of the desert. This Spanish mission is operated by the Congregation of Missionaries of St. Paul the Apostle. They were originally founded in Spain, but the "mission" has always been Africa, and Kenya in particular. The founder, who is buried there in that mission, founded the Congregation only in 1978, so they are still quite young. They are made up of priests----three of them are here----sisters and lay women and men who stop short of taking vows, but who live a committed celibate, religious life in community. We had lunch with the 8 members who were there and had a wonderful conversation about their life and their ministry. They work among the people inthis area in providing spiritual, pastoral, and many other basic human needs, such as medical attention, life skills, wells for water, and food distribution. The Chapel on this property is one of the nicest churches we have seen so far.

The video above gives an overview of CMSPA 

After a late lunch (already it was 3:30 or 4:00), we set out for the final destination of the day, which is an outstation from the Spanish mission, where Father Stephen, one of the CMSPA's is in charge. Before arriving at the compound, we stopped in a village of very traditional Turkana who were so excited to be meeting us. As has become the custom, they greeted us with song and dance. The reason for stopping there was because just two months ago, 11 members of their village---all young men who were out fishing for food for the village----were killed by (what they call) "the enemy"----the Ethiopians. There is a very large lake here, Lake Torkana, and since it is between Kenya and Ethiopia, here are constant power struggles for the control of the fishing rights in the lake. Lake Turkana also happens to be the home for the largest concentration of crocodiles in the world! Father Stephen wanted us to offer them words of encouragement and support as they still grieve such a large loss of their men. After a wonderful hour with these people, we continued our journey toward the final destination of the day, which is an outstation from the Spanish mission where Father Stephen is in charge.

There are about seven members of the Congregation living here---more like affiliates---in another very large compound. We will be staying overnight here.

This location is very close to the Ethiopian border, and therefore, there is a lot of unrest in this area----and this has been the state of affairs for many years. Therefore the compound, which also houses a boarding school for children, has a good bit of security.

After a brief time of rest, we all gathered for Evening Prayer together, and then had a delicious dinner "under the stars" since it was too warm to eat inside. As an aside, it was said to me that this area is among the harshest areas in the world. It's heat is punishing and the arid conditions unforgiving. I have to admit that I have never been so hot before in my life---and its a heat that just won't go away. The good news is that there were not too many mosquitoes; the bad news is that there are lots of flies! And besides that, there are the awful three "s's": scorpions, snakes, and spiders! Fortunately I have not seen any of them, and I pray that I do not see any.

After some nice conversation gazing at the stars, we all went to bed. Tomorrow, we will celebrate Mass, visit the school, and then prepare to head back to Lodwar.

Another amazing and inspiring day in the Diocese of Lodwar!