Minnesotans celebrate 10-year partnership with Catholics of Kenya

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | October 22, 2014 | 1 Comment
Archbishop John Nienstedt confirms a candidate Oct. 12 in Kitui, Kenya, as part of a delegation from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the partnership with the Diocese of Kitui. Photo courtesy of Archbishop John Nienstedt

Archbishop John Nienstedt confirms a candidate Oct. 12 in Kitui, Kenya, as part of a delegation from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the partnership with the Diocese of Kitui. Photo courtesy of Archbishop John Nienstedt

For a group of Minnesota Catholics, Africa was not too far to go to celebrate 10 years of friendship and cooperation.

A 21-member delegation from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis traveled to the rural diocese of Kitui in south-central Kenya during the first weeks of October to commemorate a decade of partnership between the two dioceses and encourage more parishes to get involved. But fundamentally, they sought to deepen relationships with their African partners, according to Mike Haasl, global solidarity coordinator at the archdiocesan Center for Mission who co-led the delegation representing eight parishes.

The trip to Kitui was a first for Archbishop John Nienstedt, who maintained a robust schedule even on African time. While there, he dedicated a new rectory for priests, blessed a new catechetical center, visited schools and a Carmelite convent, confirmed 350 candidates and blessed a new mission house. He and delegates met with diocesan leaders to help establish a more institutional bond for the partnership. The Kitui diocese is in an area prone to long droughts, resulting in a lack of water and consequently, a shortage of food. Compounding environmental problems for Kenyans are health crises and violence — 5 percent of the overall population live with HIV/AIDS, and 10,000 children have been orphaned because of the disease; there also are border clashes with Somalia and threats by terrorist group Al-Shabab.

“What struck me so forcefully was that despite the serious challenges that Kenyans face, problems do not overcome the possibilities,” Archbishop Nienstedt said. “This is a resilient people who, like their American counterparts, believe in a better tomorrow.”

This trip to Africa was the fourth that members of the archdiocese have made since 2005; Kitui diocese members also have made four trips to Minnesota.

One highlight was the Oct. 12 Mass that Archbishop Nienstedt concelebrated with Kitui Bishop Anthony Muheria, where the Minnesota delegation presented the Kitui diocese with 26 chalices given by archdiocesan parishes. In return, Kitui gave the Minnesotans calabashes — gourds made into vessels — to hold holy water.

“They’re giving not out of their excess at all, they’re giving out of their need,” Haasl said. “They’re deciding, ‘well, I’ll forgo clothing or I’ll forgo this or that. . .’ They have nothing, and they’re still giving.”

On her first trip to Kitui, Suzanne Bernet was impressed by Kitui residents’ generosity.

“Despite the differences in our material kinds of resources, I was so humbled by the fact that there was generosity that kept coming and coming and coming,” said Bernet, who is pastoral associate for community life and social justice at Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville.

While visiting with school children and others, she also was surprised at their interest in discussing what they had in common with American Catholics — and their differences.

At a meeting with Kitui women, Mary Jo Voxland made a similar discovery.

“It’s made me more aware of the differences and all the likenesses of people around the world,” said Voxland, of St. Michael in Kenyon, who’s been involved in the partnership since it began. “We all believe in the same God, and we all pray to him.” Though life is different in both places, “We all worship him on Sundays in the same way.”

Though it was dry before the beginning of the rainy season, Voxland said one highlight was seeing a dam for which Minnesota parishes contributed funds through the Center for Mission’s Living Water Program.

“It was just wonderful to go out there and be able to see something that we helped them build,” she said.

Father Randal Kasel, pastor of St. Michael in Pine Island, said his first trip to Africa was an adventure — offering Mass and listening to the peoples’ needs. He spent time talking with a fairly affluent farmer. “I just enjoyed visiting with him and others I met about what life is like and what are the things that they do,” he said. “Their lives are in some ways more difficult than we have. But in other ways, they have certain joys and blessings that I see that we don’t have.”

Father Kasel said he appreciated the people’s hospitality and joy. “There’s joyfulness in striving to follow Christ among the faithful that I saw as well.”

Along with their joyfulness, Bernet said the African partners have a good understanding of how to live in community.

“They could really show us what it’s like to immerse yourself in the power of community,” she said. . . . “that you need to rely on other people. They were living examples of what it means to be the body of Christ.”

As a way of building community, partners in both places will continue to seek ways to develop the mutually supportive relationship, Haasl said. Anyone in the archdiocese can be involved in the partnership. To increase awareness, the partners will create a joint Facebook page that will have updates from both dioceses.

“It’s an exciting thing that we have built a relationship and really potentially become family with our brothers and sisters in Kitui,” he said.

Below are a few videos taken by Susan Mulheron on the delegation trip.

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