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In the footsteps of a priest

NAIROBI, October 4 – He was ordained the first African priest in 1957 and went on to serve in various capacities in the Catholic Church.

His spiritual journey as a shepherd of Christ’s flock continued, resulting in his appointment as Bishop of the Eldoret Catholic Church, where he served between 1970 and 1991.

At the time of his retirement in 2005, he was the Archbishop of the Catholic Church in the coastal town of Mombasa. 

Meet his grace John Njenga, Archbishop Emeritus (honorably retired).

On Sunday, October 5, Archbishop Njenga will launch his biography at the Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi.

“I was educated and brought up by the Holy Ghost fathers. Having gone through all the changes that have taken place in this country as a young priest, as a Bishop and Archbishop, I thought I should tell the story to the people because it’s always good for people to learn from others,” he told Capital News in a recent interview.

Archbishop Njenga was born on Christmas Day in 1928 at Tigoni and was brought up in a strong family setting with traditional African values.  He remembers that during his upbringing, there was a sense of communal interconnectedness, unlike in the present day when this sense “is fast ebbing away.”

From an early start, Archbishop Njenga was interested in priesthood.

He witnessed Kenya go through the Mau Mau period, independence from Britain and has seen the country change presidents three times.  He recalls that one of them, (President Mwai Kibaki) was his school mate at Mangu High School.

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“Before I was ordained a priest I had to go through a lot of studies. I learnt philosophy and theology and because there were no institutions to offer this training in Kenya I had to go to Tanzania where I studied philosophy for three years and theology for nearly five years.  I was ordained in 1957 and since then, I have enjoyed my priesthood,” Archbishop Njenga said.

He recalled his school days with nostalgia and notes that at the time, there was fierce discipline in learning institutions.

“We went wrong when we took away the cane from schools.  This is clearly against God’s law.  He says in the bible ‘spare the rod, spoil the child.’  Discipline is absolutely necessary,” he said.

He added that parents had abdicated their roles and laid blame on teachers and the government.

“Strikes were unheard of during our time.  In fact if you were punished in school you did not dare tell your parents about it because they would punish you again.”

But he sees a decay of discipline in society in general as a major contributor to indiscipline in schools.

These days there is no discipline on our roads.  You have people overtaking you on the right and on the left.  Any country that depends on the police force to keep law and order is going down the drain.  If you go to do shopping and you find someone ahead of you need to queue.  What we need is discipline and mutual understanding.”

The 79-year-old Archbishop also notes that corruption is eroding the fabric of Kenyan society. “There was a recent report that said we are one of the most corrupt nations.  I am sad for this country and the future generations. This decay must be condemned in the strongest terms possible,” he said.

Even though Archbishop Njenga is formally retired, he continues to minister.

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“I am pretty active saying mass, hearing confessions and giving people spiritual direction. There is a lot of spiritual work to do for retired people like me,” he says with a smile on his face.

Apart from being involved in church work, the Archbishop takes time to go to the gym everyday where he spends at least two hours on the treadmill and sauna.

“I thank God I enjoy good health.   That’s God’s gift.”

He goes on to point out that he is saddened by infighting witnessed in a number of churches.  “This comes about because of ambition. The ministers are human beings and can be ambitious and can get out of track. Some of the people go there to look for fame and money even though we say church is divine. It’s a pity but it does happen.”

He recalls that Jesus had disciples and one of them let him down. “People have free will and they can abuse that free will.”

On his biography he says; “Having dedicated my whole life to Jesus, I hope that they can learn something from my experiences. It doesn’t mean that we want to glorify ourselves by launching the book. It is a contribution to the people of God for the betterment of their lives.”


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