Enriching the Poor
By Kelly Homan Rodoski/ SUN contributing writer
Priests and Sisters from Africa Enlisting Help for Diocese of Nakuru
CANASTOTA — As people began gathering in the community room of St. Agatha’s Church on Sept. 19, Father Cleophas Oseso Tuka was hoping for a crowd of 30 for the inaugural event of the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru Mission Office. Instead, more than 100 people from around the diocese came to show their support for the new office and to learn about how they can begin to build a bridge between the Diocese of Nakuru and the Diocese of Syracuse.
Eleven priests and seven women religious from the African nations of Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya are currently ministering in the Diocese of Syracuse. While they are sharing their gifts of faith here in the United States, their minds and hearts are never far from the suffering of the people in their home countries that are wracked with poverty and have been devastated by HIV/AIDS. After sharing fellowship and a meal featuring traditional African foods, Father Cleophas, who is serving at St. Ambrose in Endicott and as director of the new mission office, talked to those gathered about the conditions in his native Kenya.
Kenya is a country of 32 million people in a land area that is twice the size of the state of Nevada. There, an estimated 2.5 million people live with HIV/AIDS, many of them under the age of 15. The life expectancy in Kenya has decreased from 60 in 1990 to 49 in 2004. A packed punch of poor governance, poverty (56 percent of the population lives on less than $1 a day), a severe drought and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS has left the country facing the most severe of humanitarian crises.
“Today in Kenya, poverty is not simply a lack of income to meet your daily needs,” Father Cleophas said. “It touches every dimension of your life.” Those living in poverty, hunger and hopelessness often adopt risky strategies that can lead to HIV/AIDS. The Diocese of Nakuru is currently involved in poverty reduction and is working to bring life and hope to many people, Father Cleophas said. As church leaders there face such a staggering task, they are appealing to others for donations and assistance. “By sharing our faith and our African heritage, we walk with you in solidarity to support those in need,” Father Cleophas said. “We will partner with you to make the people of Nakuru more dignified. We need your support—today is a beginning and sign of things to come.” Ralph Jones, director of the diocesan Office of Black Catholic Ministry, said that people in the United States do not realize how blessed they are. For example, Americans have a choice of restaurants to eat in, or can turn on a faucet and get clean water. He spoke of how many families in African live on a just a gallon of water a day — for drinking, cooking and bathing. That water doesn’t come out of a faucet, but comes from the river or a mud puddle. He spoke of an African priest, doing missionary work in the U.S., who took home a birthday gift to his mother — a pump and a hose so that she would not have to walk to the river to get water. The mother promptly gave the pump and hose to the bishop for use by other families in need. “We are all Catholic, but we don’t have an appreciation for other dioceses and the necessities they have,” Jones said.
Jones said the Diocese of Syracuse has benefited greatly from the spirituality of the African priests and sisters serving here. “They have a lot more to offer us than we can give in return,” Jones said. “Let them touch your souls, and you will see why they were brought here to do missionary work.” Jennifer Hall was one of several residents of the Northern Region who attended the dinner. She became familiar with the mission work of the diocese’s African priests through Father Joachim Kinuthia when he served at St. Mary’s in Oswego. He is now parochial vicar at St. Margaret’s in Mattydale. Hall, a teacher and artist, was a member of the Swahili class that Father Joachim taught in Oswego, and she has studied the continent extensively and one day hopes to work there.
“I’m glad we are doing something for a people who are so desperately in need,” she said. Father Cleophas and Sister Anisia Muthoni, a Little Sister of St. Francis of Assisi who is serving at St. Anthony’s in Endicott, as well as their fellow priests and religious sisters from Africa, are committed to educating members of the Diocese of Syracuse about the desperate needs in Africa and the ways that they can help. Proceeds from the Sept. 19 event, as well as future events sponsored by the mission office, will be directed to the Diocese of Nakuru. Father Cleophas will also be working to garner support for the mission from nonprofit organizations.
For more information on how to help support the mission of the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru Mission Office, write to the office at 406 Spencer St., Canastota, N.Y. 13032.