Connecting with Kenya


IMG_8386The Diocese of Syracuse and Diocese of Nakuru, Kenya collaborate

By Connie Berry
Sun editor

In his early 40s, Bishop Maurice Makumba of the Diocese of Nakuru, Kenya, must be one of the youngest  ordinaries in the world. He is in the Syracuse Diocese to visit two of his “flock” and to thank the people of the diocese for their support for his diocese back in Kenya. It is his second trip to the U.S.

“I came also to see some of my sheep, make sure they are not lost,” Bishop Makumba said smiling, “to let them know we love them and they belong to us.”

Father Cleophus Tuka, who heads a mission for his home diocese in Nakuru and serves at St. Margaret’s Church in Mattydale with Father Robert Hyde, hosted his bishop during part of his visit to the U.S. Bishop Makumba also planned to visit his other sheep, Father Paul Machira who serves at St. Patrick/St. Thomas with Father John Putano in Binghamton.

Bishop Makumba and Syracuse’s Bishop Robert Cunningham have something else in common besides shared interest in the two priests. Both bishops are relatively new to their assignments and have been serving their current dioceses for approximately two years. The relationship between Syracuse and Nakuru was established during the tenure of the previous bishop, Bishop James Moynihan. Bishop Makumba said he wanted to visit the Syracuse Diocese to get a better understanding of the collaboration between the two dioceses.

“That’s precisely why I’m here,” he said. “I found something good between the two and I want to thank your bishop and the community of the Diocese of Syracuse for their kindness to us. And I want to express my desire it [the collaboration] continue because it is a good thing.”

The Diocese of Nakuru lies about 100 miles northwest of Niarobi, the capital of Kenya. Nakuru is the fourth largest urban center in Kenya but also encompasses semi-arid, rural areas.

“It is a very strategic town because you pass through Nakuru on your way to other African  countries. We have several universities and other universities with campuses in Nakuru. It is the fastest growing town in East Africa,” Bishop Makumba said.

Father Tuka explained that general elections a few years ago resulted in violence with more than 1,000 killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. The economic disparity between the Nakuru Diocese and the Syracuse Diocese can be seen in the fact that just $10 would  feed a child in an orphanage for a week in Nakuru. Part of Father Tuka’s work in this diocese is raising awareness and funds for the people back home. He was previously assigned to Holy Family Church in Fairmount and that parish has worked with St. Margaret’s to raise funds for an orphanage in Nakuru.

Father Tuka said the original orphanage was a wooden structure housing 10 children, most orphaned by AIDS. Today it is a more modern structure with 46 children living there.

Bishop Makumba said that although the AIDS/HIV numbers are lower than in the past, the country will be dealing with the effects of the disease for years to come.

“So many of our kids have become parents to the younger kids,” Bishop Makumba said. “The infection levels go down now, but what is left behind we’ll have to deal with for some time.”

One of the differences between the U.S. and Kenya is the way the government works. In Kenya there is no government help for the social issues that plague the communities so the people turn to the church for help. Father Tuka said pastoral ministry is “complex” in Kenya.

“A priest back home may end up being a midwife,” Father Tuka said. “A woman will come to the church for help because she does not have a vehicle. If the baby starts to come on the way to the hospital, they have to help her. Because of the socio-economic situation, if they don’t have something, they knock on the priest’s door. You can’t chase them away. They are looking for somebody who will listen, show compassion. Pastoral ministry is complex; it is not just spiritual.”

Father Tuka said Catholicism is still in its infancy in Kenya, having only been there less than 150 years. Parishes consist of a main church with as many as 10 or 15 missions in outlying areas. Usually at least two priests serve at the main church, he said, with the priests traveling to the other missions each week. This means a catechetical leader may lead a service when a priest is not available. And, he said, Mass may not always begin on time. “In Africa we say, ‘Take your time,’” Father Tuka said.

There are cultural differences, Father Tuka said, but in the area of faith, he said he finds the people here are very spiritual.

“I find the people very spiritual here,” Father Tuka said. “At every parish I’m welcomed and they challenge me spiritually. What you see of America back home is through the media and you think Americans don’t go to church. When I came here I didn’t see that. I see people coming to church on Sunday and I see them formed from their families. I can’t say that people in Kenya are more spiritual than here.”

Father Tuka traveled back home in January and was able to see the orphanage, which is called “Holy Family Orphanage” in honor of its benefactors. A group of nuns manage the orphanage, he said. Father Tuka said the Syracuse parishes will now focus on raising funds for a piece of land for the children to play and for a more modern and economical kitchen for the orphanage.

Though he is exceedingly grateful for the fundraising and support of the people of the Syracuse Diocese, Bishop Makumba said that he would like to see a broader exchange of people between the two dioceses. If nurses or doctors or teachers would come to Nakuru for a week, a month or more, it would make a tremendous impact, he said. Thus far, only a few people from the Syracuse Diocese have traveled to Nakuru. The collaboration does not have to mean only priests being exchanged, Bishop Makumba explained.

Bishop Makumba said vocations in the Diocese of Nakuru are steady and adequate for their needs at present. Both Father Tuka and Bishop Makumba agreed that in Africa, priests are not ordained only for a diocese but rather to serve the “whole world.” The Diocese of Nakuru ordains three or four priests a year, he said. Bishop Makumba’s own vocation grew over time, beginning with attending Mass with his mother when he was a little boy.

“We had Mill Hill priests and I was impressed by the way they celebrated Mass, and their vestments. I thought I would like to put those things on,” he said, smiling.

“And now he wears a bishop’s vestments,” Father Tuka laughed.

“Yes, I still like the vestments very much,” Bishop Makumba admitted.

Bishop Makumba was clear about the needs of the people of his diocese and his hope that the relationship between the Syracuse Diocese and the Diocese of Nakuru continues and grows.

“If it [the collaboration] were expanded it would be more fruitful with not just priests but other personnel could come and spend some time in Nakuru,” Bishop Makumba said. “That $10 you mention here can be a matter of life and death there. A doctor or nurse coming there would be quite a boost to us.”

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