4 life lessons from prelate who faced up to warriors
In his relentless efforts to pursue lasting peace among warring communities in the North Rift, Korir believed solutions could only be found in the battlefields and not in posh hotels
“Go and ask the Pokot and the Marakwet what they want the Church to do for them.” These words from Bishop Dr Cornelius Kipng’eno arap Korir marked the first step not only to peace building but to sustainable development in general.
When Bishop Korir realised the enormous respect that Kenyans, in this case the Pokot and the Marakwet, had for religious leaders, he decided that he wanted to be directly engaged in building peace in Kerio Valley in the North Rift .
His first step was not to lock himself up in some library to study the communities or the root causes behind the conflict. Nor did he call the leaders of the two communities for a roundtable talk with him. These would come much later.
His immediate response was to seek the perspectives of the communities on what role they expected the Church to play in their circumstances. Lesson 1: Listen first.
So when both communities responded: “We want you to help us to talk to each other,” the peace-maker bishop rolled up his sleeves and set out to work with the Pokot and the Marakwet.
He set off with great respect for the people and appealed to their culture. Lesson 2: Respect people.
When the people told him: “We don’t like to eat with people we dislike, but if we do, it forces us to be civil, at least for the length of the meal,” he realised that what he needed was to get the communities to eat together. The length of a meal is enough ceasefire time to start dialogue. Lesson 3: Tap into community resources.
This is detailed in Bishop Korir’s book, Amani Mashinani (Peace at the grassroots), which affirms that the appropriate setting for peace-building is not conferences in posh hotels but rather, where the conflict is. Lesson 4: If you are not working with them, you are not for them.
A lot has been said about the bishop, the peace-maker. In this tribute of a lay person to her bishop, I focus on the bishop who had great love for education, and will remain a fountainhead in and outside the Church.
My encounter with Bishop Korir dates back to 1990 when he visited his Alma Mater, the Mother of Apostles Minor Seminary, Eldoret, as a newly consecrated bishop. I was then teaching at the seminary under the then rector, Fr Maurice Crowley, now the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kitale.
Bishop Korir’s love for education is demonstrated in the innumerable visits he made to the seminary, his financial support to needy students, his blessings to every form four class due to sit the Kenya Certificate of Education examinations and his presence at every annual celebration of the results.
The growth of the Catholic Church’s education sector during the term of Bishop Korir manifests his love for education.
Early this year, I walked into his office to request him to sponsor some priests who had shown interest in enrolling into a newly-established postgraduate programme at Moi University, Clinical Pastoral Education. He spontaneously responded: “We will pay. Let us know how much we need to pay.”
Sooner than later, the Diocesan Vicar General called me asking me to pick up a cheque in favour of Moi University for the full fees. At this specific moment in the history of our country, Bishop Korir, the fountainhead, leaves all of us Kenyans, with one message: “There is much work still to be done.”
More so, he directly addresses religious leaders exhorting them to read the signs of the time and respond to God’s call to work for peace rather than hide in “pews in the name of piety.”
More specifically and much more powerfully for this time and place, Bishop Korir admonishes: “To teach that some children of God are worth less than others is a heresy”.
Eunice Kamaara is a professor of Religion at Moi University, Kenya. email@example.com
Bishop Korir chats with worshippers after Christmas Day Mass at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral Catholic Church, Eldoret in 2011.