Bishop Dominic Kimengich of Lodwar diocese in the north east of Kenya talks about his experience with Comboni Missionaries. “I find myself with great admiration and a sense of gratitude that they have been here for many years and it is my prayer that they will continue to be here for many more years to come”.
One of the first places I visited when I came to the Diocese of Lodwar in Kenya after my appointment as the auxiliary Bishop of Lodwar in May 2010 was the famous garden of Father Elias Ciappetti, a Comboni Missionary working in the Risen Christ Parish – Nakwamekwi. He did something that was very rare in Turkana; to cultivate an orchard that produced all kinds of fruits in the desert of Turkana.
His shamba – garden – became a must see place for any visitor coming to Lodwar. It was amazing to see the creativity, the perseverance, and the resilience of this veteran missionary – already over 80 years of age – still bearing fruits, still full of sap at that venerable age when others would have retired out of the missionary field.
As I came to know more and more of the Comboni Missionaries and their founder St. Daniel Comboni, I began praising and thanking God for the wonderful vocation, spirit and courage that He had bestowed on St. Daniel Comboni, the great apostle to Africa from Italy, who uttered the famous phrase: “Africa or death”. Working together with the Comboni Missionaries in the Diocese of Lodwar, I find myself with great admiration and a sense of gratitude that they have been here for many years and it is my prayer that they will continue to be here for many more years to come.
I first came to know the Comboni Missionaries when I was a priest of the Diocese of Nakuru in the early 1980s. By then, the Combonis were taking pastoral care of some parishes such as Naivasha, Gilgil and Mogotio. They later on moved to the less developed areas of Baringo where the late Fr. Romeo de Berti founded the Parish of Kerio Valley. By that time, I was a young priest in charge of the Parish of Kipsaraman within the same deanery and we used to meet in our deanery meetings with the Comboni priests who were in Mogotio, Kituro and Kerio Valley.
What struck me most was their commitment to pastoral work and it was very clear that whatever they did, they did it very well. The Churches and the structures they were putting up were very solid and well done. I remember approaching Fr. Romeo to assist me to design one of the outstation chapels which he did and went ahead also to put up the metal structure since I had no clue how to do it.
One thing I wish to note is that because of the presence of the Comboni Missionaries in Baringo a number of young ladies ended up joining the Comboni Sisters. Today, we have three Comboni Sisters from Baringo. What I noticed with the Comboni Missionaries then was their willingness to promote African vocations to the religious life, even though most of them were of Italian origin.
Now I understand that St. Daniel Comboni himself had this vision of evangelizing Africa with Africans themselves. It is a wonderful approach since it challenges the local people to be the protagonists of their own evangelization. Such an attitude frees people and makes them feel responsible and gives them a sense of ownership as they see the Church as part and parcel of them and not as something imposed from outside.
A real missionary should lead people to Christ and then seek to disappear so that the people will encounter Christ directly. Living the inspiration of St. Daniel Comboni, the African Church should fully plunge into the task of proclaiming the Good News within and outside Africa, challenging her own sons and daughters to follow Christ without reservation and witnessing to Christ in every part of the world where God wants them to be.
I have noted the strategy of the Comboni Missionaries to pull out of areas where they see that the local Church is able to carry on with the work of evangelization on its own. In that way they put into practice their charism of missio ad gentes that is going to those areas where the Gospel has not been proclaimed. It seems to me that in line with the foundational inspiration of St. Daniel Comboni, it doesn’t make sense for the Comboni Missionaries to want to stay in areas where they are less needed. Instead they should heed the call of Pope Francis to reach out to the periphery of society where nobody else wants to be.
I am very pleased that here in Lodwar, the Comboni Missionaries who are in Lokichar are constructing a mission in a place called Kalabata which is about 100 kilometres from the parish. This is a very remote area that is very disturbed because of frequent attacks from the Pokot tribe. This conflict has been going on for ages and the only way to bring peace to these warring communities and ensure that there is sustainable development is the starting of educational facilities.
One of the greatest gifts that the Comboni Missionaries in Lodwar have given to the people of Turkana is the establishment of St. Comboni Girls High School. Through the initiatives of Fr. Elia Ciappetti and Fr. Raphael Cefalo, the construction of this school started with the purpose of providing the education of Turkana girls who are very much disadvantaged due to cultural and traditional practices. Most of these girls ended up being victims of early marriages.
The school is now up to Form III with around 150 students. Since it is a double stream school it is hoped that by the time it reaches Form IV, there will be 320 girls getting good Catholic formation, quality education and a dose of good discipline. As I mentioned above, this is a wonderful gift and we will always remain grateful to the Comboni missionaries for striving to improve the quality of life of the local people.