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

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - TRIBUTE TO KENYA’S HERO - BY EU­NICE KA­MAARA

“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. acip.kenya@gmail.com

Bishop Korir chats with wor­ship­pers af­ter Christ­mas Day Mass at the Sa­cred Heart of Je­sus Cathe­dral Catholic Church, El­doret in 2011.

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