He had an en­dur­ing pas­sion for jus­tice and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion

He showed his met­tle and benev­o­lence in the 2007 post-poll chaos when he trans­formed him­self into the ul­ti­mate care­giver, tak­ing care of the dis­placed

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - TRIBUTE TO KENYA’S HERO - Fr Njoroge, a priest of the Arch­dio­cese of Nairobi, is Catholic Chap­lain and Pro­fes­sor of De­vel­op­ment Stud­ies and Ethics at Jomo Keny­atta Uni­ver­sity of Agri­cul­ture and Tech­nol­ogy lnjoroge@ihrd.jkuat.ac.ke

“He took them in— more than 10,000 of them — and pro­vided for their needs to the frus­tra­tion and anger of their tor­men­tors” PROF, FR LAWRENCE NJOROGE

It is well known that the Catholic Church in Kenya and else­where in Africa has ex­pended huge re­sources in the sec­tors of ed­u­ca­tion and health. Un­til fairly re­cently, it seemed that be­sides run­ning ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and of­fer­ing health ser­vices, the Church mostly con­cen­trated on in­ter­nal mat­ters of liturgy and wor­ship with lit­tle or no time for in­volve­ment in po­lit­i­cal is­sues.

It must have come as a sur­prise to Catholic bish­ops when Pres­i­dent Jomo Keny­atta said to them in their ple­nary con­fer­ence in the mid-70s: “If we do some­thing wrong and you do not point it out to us, you may one day have to an­swer God for our fail­ings. You are the con­science of so­ci­ety.”

The pas­toral work of Bishop Cor­nelius Korir dur­ing his 27- year ten­ure as head of the El­doret dio­cese rep­re­sents one gal­lant and con­tin­u­ous ef­fort to serve as the con­science of so­ci­ety. Even as he min­is­tered as shep­herd of a par­tic­u­lar dio­cese, he was part of the or­gan­i­sa­tion of Catholic bish­ops in Kenya that con­sti­tutes a con­fer­ence.

Bishop Ndingi Mwana ‘a Nzeki, who or­dained Korir as a priest, in­di­cated that the Catholic Church was break­ing new ground by op­pos­ing the gov­ern­ment on its mlo­longo or queue vot­ing sys­tem in the 80s. It was a bold and un­prece­dented move by the lead­ers of the Catholic Church in tak­ing such a stance against the po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment openly.

Upon com­plet­ing his grad­u­ate stud­ies in Ire­land in 1989, Fr Korir was look­ing for­ward to re­sum­ing his or­di­nary pri­estly work at a parish in Nakuru dio­cese to which he then be­longed. But soon af­ter his ap­point­ment as Bishop of El­doret in 1990, the Catholic Church be­came in­creas­ingly crit­i­cal of Pres­i­dent Daniel arap Moi’s gov­ern­ment, ris­ing a notch higher than the ear­lier op­po­si­tion to the vot­ing sys­tem.

This time round, the Catholic bish­ops is­sued a hard-hit­ting pas­toral let­ter en­ti­tled: ‘On the Present Sit­u­a­tion in our Coun­try’. The Na­tional Coun­cil of Churches of Kenya, be­long­ing to the Protes­tant fra­ter­nity, too, adopted a crit­i­cal po­si­tion and joined forces with the Catholics. Church lead­ers were ac­com­pa­nied in the same boat by po­lit­i­cal and civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists.

To­gether with his fel­low cler­ics, Bishop Korir had to make a dif­fi­cult choice whether to give in to a cul­ture of si­lence or to rise to the oc­ca­sion as the con­science of so­ci­ety through which truth speaks to power.

The coura­geous pas­toral let­ter de­mand­ing multi-party democ­racy was fol­lowed by an­other pow­er­ful epis­tle from the Catholic Church headed: ‘A Call to Jus­tice, Love and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion’. This was writ­ten dur­ing the ten­ure of Arch­bishop Zac­cha­eus Okoth as Chair of the Bish­ops’ Con­fer­ence.

Bishop Korir him­self headed the 26-mem­ber Epis­co­pal Con­fer­ence from 2003 to 2006. But the pe­riod of the great­est trial and tribu­la­tion for him was in the af­ter­math of the post-elec­tion vi­o­lence af­ter the 2007 poll. There was a dif­fi­cult choice to be made be­tween al­low­ing him­self to be en­slaved by nar­row tribal in­stincts or opt­ing to serve the com­mon good as a bishop of the Catholic Church. The time for that de­ci­sion had come.

More than 10,000 in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons, not of his own eth­nic group, needed food, shel­ter and, above all, pro­tec­tion. He took them in and pro­vided for their needs, to the con­ster­na­tion, frus­tra­tion and anger of their tor­men­tors.

Be­sides moral strength, he needed huge ma­te­rial re­sources to take care of those in need. He drew not only from in­ter­nal dioce­san re­sources, but also from a net­work of na­tional and in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions in­clud­ing the UN, the EU, OXFAM and the Ir­ish Mis­sion­ary Union through the good of­fices Fr Tom Kig­gins, its Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor, who was Bishop Korir’s pro­fes­sor years be­fore at St Thomas Aquinas Sem­i­nary, Nairobi.

A true ec­u­menist, the de­parted prelate had the gift of work­ing with be­liev­ers from var­i­ous Chris­tian churches. To­gether with the Rev Fr Evan­ge­los Thi­ani of the Greek Or­tho­dox Arch­dio­cese of Kenya, the de­parted bishop was a key leader of the Multi-sec­toral Fo­rum, a joint ini­tia­tive of re­li­gious and civil so­ci­ety stake­hold­ers whose Kenya Chap­ter seeks to pro­mote so­cial jus­tice and good gover­nance.

Given his pas­sion for jus­tice and peace, Bishop Cor­nelius Korir must be watch­ing with con­cern the evil plots, quar­rels and ha­tred among broth­ers and sis­ters in Kenya af­ter the 2017 elec­tions.

Let us al­low his soul to rest in peace by fix­ing the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic prob­lems now fac­ing our beloved coun­try.

Eter­nal rest, grant unto him, O Lord.

And let per­pet­ual light shine upon him.

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