Using his own charm, charisma and quiet diplomacy, prelate brought warring tribes together, faced up to armed youths and gave shelter to the displaced
“For the courageous peace makers who risk scorn, fear and harm to build a better world.” Bishop Cornelius Korir may have penned these opening lines in his book: Amani Mashinani (Peace at the Grassroots), as a dedication to others, but, unwittingly, he may have been describing himself.
For Bishop Korir, the prelate of Eldoret Diocese who died on October 30, was perhaps the only clergyman in Kenya’s history for whom peace could have been his middle name.
While the Bomet-born bishop was celebrated for expanding the Catholic Church in the North Rift, what stands out in his 27 years of episcopal ministry is his role in building bridges and seeking reconciliation.
He believed that the best way to keep the peace in the north was to bring development to people.
“We dug two dams in East Pokot, and donors came in to utilise River Lelan, which is shared by the two Pokots and Marakwet,” he told Saturday Nation in a past interview.
The developments at Lelan in West Pokot have since become the shining torch in Bishop Korir’s peace-keeping ministry.
“The foundation, run by the American billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates, helped put up milk cooling plants, which made Pokots and Marakwets concentrate on milk production,” said the Bishop.
His efforts saw the fighting stop with Lelan becoming a leading producer of milk with an average of up to 20,000 litres daily.
But while bringing prosperity to the Pokot and Marakwet neighbours remains an enduring milestone in his life, Bishop Korir may have reached the pinnacle of his peace-making call when he came face to face with the post-election violence of 2007-08.
At the height of the violence which erupted after the disputed election of 2007, Bishop Korir literally blocked some armed youth who were baying for the blood of women and children fleeing the skirmishes.
At one point the cathedral in Eldoret, the headquarters of the see and the seat of the bishop, hosted up to 10,000 Internally Displaced People in the church compound.
“In 2008, I had to go from location to location bringing people together and our major rallying point was to call for a ceasefire that would allow farmers to plant as it was the planting season. We were planting and talking,” he recalled.
The fourth born child of the late Athanas Arap Tamason and the late Blandina Chepkoech, Cornelius Korir was born on July 6 in 1950 at Segutiet Village of Bomet in Kericho Diocese.
Initially, his parents resisted his decision to join the church but he defied all odds and braved the 46 kilometre return journey to attend mass at the Mill Hill Missionaries, Kaplong Mission, at least once a month.
It is here that the young Korir met Fr Joseph Casser, a Mill Hill Missionary, who encouraged him to join the minor seminary after completing his basic education.
He would later attend Mother of Apostles Minor Seminary, Eldoret, completing his secondary education in 1975 before proceeding to St Augustine Major Seminary in Bungoma to pursue a Diploma in Philosophy and Religious Studies.
In 1982, Bishop Korir joined St Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary, Nairobi, for another Diploma in Theology and in 1989 he attained a Masters degree in Sacred Theology from St Patrick College, Maynooth in Ireland.
His Church work began when he was ordained a priest on November 6, 1982 by Rt Rev Ndingi Mwana’a Nzeki and posted to Nakuru Diocese.
It is here that, he began his peace mission while serving as a priest in Molo and Kituro parishes. He took over the diocese of Eldoret from Bishop John Njenga when he was appointed