Travel diary – Kenya 2007
Posted by on 16 July 2009 ·
January 26, 2007
My stay in Nairobi is coming to its end. I have met so many people, witnessed so much faith and poverty, joy and illness, hope and misfortune. Most of all, however, I have spent a lot of time with our four priests and have become familiar with their particular responsibilities. I have visited with the various parish groups, the schools that we have opened. I leave here convinced that the path we have begun to tread is the correct one: that of education. And not only for us, but for Africa. We are doing something useful not just for the Church but for these communities, as well. I hope that my diary has been useful for all those persons that wished to have news from me while in Nairobi. I also hope that the diary has afforded the opportunity for further reflection. My luggage awaits, as well as all those persons that I wish to bid farewell.
Good-bye Nairobi, farewell Africa.
January 25, 2007
We are back from two days at Lake Nakuru, one of the many volcanic lakes of the Rift Valley, famous for the thousands and thousands of flamingos that populate the rivers. We toured the savannah and the forest in our Toyota. We saw antelopes, gazelles, zebras, rhinos, buffalos, baboons, giraffes, and hyenas. Along the lake there were swarms of pelicans and flamingos. We held the meeting of the house in this earthly paradise knowing full well that it is an oasis in the middle of a very different world. Here in Nairobi the Social Forum against globalization has begun. It is very anti-Bush (the billboards here refer to him as “number one in terror”). The thousand or so persons that are here for the forum don’t come from Africa, but from the western world. Everything looks really old—70s sort—with a mirage of revolution. I think the path of education that we have chosen is a much more interesting one. Creating new leading classes via long and arduous work, but classes comprised of people fascinated by education. Saving the poor through the conversion of the hearts and minds of the rich and powerful. Today we will discuss the following topics: the young, school, education. Tomorrow will more than likely be a “vacation” day. Friday we will hold an administrative meeting and during the evening we embark on our trip back to Italy. Today I’ll have lunch with AIDS patients at our meeting point that gathers them in and takes care of them.
January 20, 2007
Visited the Wendani and Kahawa neighborhoods that are in the parish. These last few years have seen the construction of new buildings that stick out like soar thumbs amidst poorly constructed homes in an area lacking a sewer system, paved roads, and the presence of a sanitation department. Fr. Alfonso knows a lot people and as we tour the area many greet and are greeted by him. He often stops to ask for news about someone or another. We approach a home where a woman is holding her son. He is skin and bones, suffers from a deformity, and is very small. He is 16 years old but doesn’t speak and is affected by a number of illnesses. His mother tries to feed him some cereal but he is not able to ingest anything. This family receives assistance through our sponsorship program. We visit the clinic run by our parish. I am told that there is a bit of a wait because it is Saturday morning. The people that frequent the clinic most are ill with malaria or tuberculosis. Others come for HIV tests. The clinic is in need of more modern equipment. That’s why we have asked the Knights of Malta for assistance. Afternoon: rest. During the evening I’ll read a few pages from Claudel. Tomorrow, January 21, 2007, I will celebrate mass at the parish. After mass I will meet with the Pastoral Council and speak on the topic of co-responsibility. On Sunday afternoon I will meet with the CL community. January 22 and 23 I will go on Safari in a national park. I’ll take up my diary again on Wednesday, January 24th.
January 17, 2007
I spent the morning at the nuncio’s office. Two hours of conversation with nuncio, Monsignor Alain Lebeaupin. We discussed various topics. Together with Valerio and Carlo, at noon, we will go to the Gitega slum, the largest slum in all of Africa; one million people! There is an elementary school there run by volunteers in the CL movement. They will receive us with song and dance. The school takes its name from the famous book by French author Antoine de Saint Exupery: The Little Prince. In my opinion, it is a very important initiative given the dramatic circumstances (and location) that it finds itself in. A ray of light amidst unimaginable degradation. January 16, 2007 Today will be a day completely dedicated to the schools. During the morning I’ll visit the San Kizito professional school which has its origin in the movement of Communion and Liberation and is led by Fr. Valerio since its beginning (1992-93). It trains carpenters, electricians, hydraulic technicians, iron workers, tailors and seamstresses, electronics technicians, auto-body repairmen…. It is truly a model school and is admired in Kenya. Each program lasts two years. Every year almost 200 students obtain a diploma. Next to the school is a furniture maker that makes large wooden furniture for homes and hotels in the entire country. I will speak to a group of young workers about my conversations with Fr. Giussani and about the meaning and value of work. I will then visit Otunga High School which opened two years ago. It is also an initiative of the movement of CL. The school will soon move to a new building that is now under construction at the parish where the Carovana Middle School will also be housed (the elementary schools will remain where they are along with the E. Mazzola Day Care). During the afternoon I will meet with the teachers of the day care and of the Carovana Elementary School. We will discuss their experience as teachers and the miracles that occur when children live a non-authoritarian relationship with their teachers. The discarding of formalism and authoritarianism is a new frontier in African education. January 15, 2007 Today is a touring day. I rest as my Sunday was quite intense. During the morning hours we will spend some time discussing the various responsibilities we have in the life of the movement of Communion and Liberation. I will take-up the same themes from our previous discussions. During the afternoon I will read Ratzinger again (Faith, Truth and Tolerance – that will be more or less the theme of the next Meeting in Rimini and also the subject of Angelo Cardinal Scola’s book about Giussani). I’ll read from a foray of books in the library (Claudel and Danielou). During the evening I’ll read Guareschi’s surreal Don Camillo books. January 12, 2007 In my spare time, I continue to write my lessons for the retreat in March on the feminine in the Church. Reading Ratzinger’s books on the topic, I have been able to discover almost by accident, the continuity and the evolution of his thought process over the years. It would be interesting to do a study of Ratzinger during the Council and of his theology beginning in the early 70s, without pre-determined text to defend, but with the purpose of actually taking a look at reality in light of his writings (even those of a later period). I have prepared the homily for Sunday’s mass, which I will be celebrating. I am really looking forward to the African liturgy (replete with song and dance). Perhaps we are already becoming acculturated and haven’t even noticed it. At noon I will visit the parish day care that was inaugurated five years ago. The children, who number the maximum capacity allowable, are waiting for me at the front entrance where we will sing and dance together. They will want to be picked up and have their pictures taken, they’ll have gifts to give me (their drawings). Afterwards I’ll have lunch with them. A lovely (and delicious) plate o rice and beans. The older children (5 years) help the younger ones while at the table. These children are a joy that I have not known before. Their education is the great thing that can be accomplished in and for Africa. January 10, 2007
First I will celebrate mass for them and then I will speak briefly of my various meetings with Mother Teresa. Later I will visit the various areas of the home: it houses more than 300 people among which are very young children abandoned by their parents; older children that are mentally and/or physically handicapped; women with mental illnesses (I am told that men live in another house). This is also the house where the novices to Africa come to live (currently numbering 57). It is a microcosm of the ills of the world that through the presence of the Missionaries of Charity becomes a expression of the ability of the faith to render human even the most deplorable conditions. Upon my return home this evening, I will read to the other priests a chapter of Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed.
January 8-9, 2007
I continue my diary.
In the morning the entire group met for three hours to discuss the topic of evangelization. After having shared with everyone the reason for my trip and for my extended stay among them, I decided to limit myself to listening and taking notes. I listened to all four of our priests as they discussed several areas of their mission. They told me about the small groups of 10-20 people (called Jumujas) that make up the larger parish community. Each priest meets on a weekly basis with the small groups in his care. It provides an excellent opportunity for people to gather together in order to listen and to talk with one another. Without ever even planning it, these groups now total a few hundred people. What about the rest of the community? The Holy Mass on Sunday is very well attended. I think people are drawn to the community by the beauty of the recently built church. A weekly catechetical lesson is offered to the entire parish (a school of Christianity). The participation seems to vary significantly. Its structure is now being rethought. It seems that a longer, more intense and perhaps even, a more all-encompassing preparation is required. This preparation is being discussed with the group of people involved. We must find a way to “enter” into their language and understand what fascinates them. A possible solution would be to offer everyone that attends a short written text (the important points of the homily? a judgment on what has been occurring? a brief phrase that introduces what will be discussed more in depth in the school of Christianity? Perhaps all three are needed).
We cannot limit ourselves merely to responding to isolated questions. But perhaps these questions are a good starting point in order to arrive at a systematic and critical proposal. If this does not occur, maturity of thought and a convinced and free adherence, is not possible. Later we spoke about liturgy as the road of evangelization. We also talked about the use of song and dance. That’s how we ended up discussing evangelization as being tied to the celebration of the sacraments, especially those of baptism and marriage. Later, I was updated on the diversity of community life and movements that have a presence in the parish: Catholic Action, Communion and Liberation, the Charismatic movement, and the Marriage Encounter (a movement that I am familiar with, founded in Spain, that branched off from the Equipes di Notre Dame)…. There are currently four Schools of Community being run in the parish that meet on a bi-weekly basis.
Fr. Valerio joined the discussion by speaking of our house as “a fountain of evangelization”. But is this really the case? Are we aware of the sacramental value of our house? Are we really “together” in our works? Or are we lone rangers? Is our passion for people authentic, or are we merely “service providers”? Are we closed in upon ourselves as a parish, or are we open to all the people we encounter?
Fr. Agapitus added some important comments on the topic of dialogue in and out of the house. He spoke of being able to draw others in and becoming genuine collaborators. He later spoke of his mission with the children (600 on Sunday!). He then went on to talk about the social activities: long distance adoption as a way to help families educate their children; the medical clinic and its possibilities; the Meeting Point for aids victims (70 HIV positive patients); the care of the physically and mentally handicapped. I decided to leave my comments regarding all of this for our next meeting.
Tomorrow, during daylight hours, I’ll write the meditations for the March retreat I am giving to our female Missionaries while in Germany. The theme will be the “feminine” side of the Christian experience.
In the evening, we will meet with the board of Urafiki Foundation from which the elementary and the middle school had its beginnings (Carovana). This board is now directly involved in the work of the schools. Together with the day care named after Emanuela Mazzola and the high school named after Cardinal Otunga, these schools hold much promise for the future.
But we’ll talk about this more in the days ahead.
In between flights (01/06/07)
I leave for Nairobi by way of Zurich early in the morning with Carlo. A direct flight is not available from Italy; in fact, it’s been this way for many years. The first time I went to Nairobi was in 1991.
At that time, Alitalia had a direct flight to Africa via Gedda. I still had to travel to north Africa in order to reach the southern end of the continent. The fact that this is the case in Italy leaves a lot to be desired.
This is my 5th trip to Nairobi. In 1991, I came in search of a teaching job for Vincent Nagle at Catholic University. But everything changed when Vincent became ill and, after recuperating, was sent to the United States. In 1991 Fr. Valerio was the only member of our Fraternity in Nairobi.
My second trip was in 1996 (if I remember correctly). I came to visit the house that was eventually founded with Roberto Amoruso. The third trip was in 2001 for the inauguration of the day care center. After having spent more than 20 years in Uganda, Alfonso Poppi joined Frs. Valerio and Roberto. We were given the care of St. Joseph’s parish in western Nairobi. We set up a temporary structure to serve as the church and began construction of the day care. This was made by possible by the generosity of the Mazzola family. Today the neighborhood is adorned by a large steeple and our house is the heart and life of the area’s social activities. Both a middle and a high school have been opened but I’ll talk about all this much more after I visit them.
From the airport home Nairobi appears not to have changed. Yet somehow, things are different. New neighborhoods (there are now over three million inhabitants) and asphalted roads. Daniel arap Moi, the much feared president, is no longer in power. Is there less corruption? Is something new occurring? I’ll try to discover it. We arrive at our house at 8 o’clock p.m. local time. It is truly beautiful, just as we planned it together. From the terrace the imposing view of the church is seen. What a joy to be a part of something so great and so beautiful! I hope the local people are proud of it, too.