Summer Placements : Reflection on Kenya

As the Scots College community prepares for the new academic year, there is a chance to reflect on the experiences of the summer. Charles Coyle, from the Diocese of Motherwell, considers his time in Kenya this summer.

Fr’s Martin and John Sweeney, two brothers from my home parish of St Columbkille’s in Rutherglen, became Mill Hill Missionaries. Through their ministries they worked in Kenya and Uganda for many years. Their witness to the work of the church is one of the reasons I was always interested in becoming a Priest myself and throughout my seminary formation, I have been interested in spending some time working in a missionary parish in Africa. Through Fr. John’s contacts I was able to organise with Fr. Gerry Hastie, the rector of the Mill Hill seminary in Nairobi, Kenya, a 4 week visit in July.

I spent two and a half weeks in Nairobi at the parish of St Joseph and Mary in Shauri Moyo, and one week in the Parish of St Josephs in Luanda, both administered by the Mill Hill Missionaries. Shauri Moyo is a heavily populated area and built around a central market area. Homes in the parish ranges from informal dwellings through to tenement blocks.

The church itself is located within a compound, which also contains two small sports fields, a health clinic, a small school for primary aged children and the Parish house and office.  There are currently two Mill Hill in the Parish and a seminarian, who is halfway through a two-year parish placement.

The daily life of the parish begins at 6:30 am with daily Mass.  The Priests then meet to pray morning prayer together along with any seminarians or priests who happen to be staying there.

The rest of the day can be filled with any number of activities, from visiting parishioners in their homes, visiting schools, organising liturgies to manning the office which can be very busy with people coming for help and advice or to arrange Masses or other events.

There is also a number of small Christian communities within the parish, which meets every week.  These communities are made up of neighbours in all areas of the Parish.  They meet to read scripture together, to pray and to share resources, particularly with members who are in need.  The priests visit these groups twice a week and celebrate mass with them.  I was fortunate to join the Priests in these visits and was made most welcome by everyone.  When you visit a home in Kenya you are always provided with the local tea and something to eat as well as a very warm welcome. In the schools of the parish the welcomes were fantastic too. I visited frequently and it was great to be able to chat to the pupils and talk to them about what faith meant to them.

My experiences in Luanda, where I spent a week, were quite different to those of Nairobi.  Luanda is a rural area, which meant that the Parish covered a much larger area.  The Parish of St Josephs has one main central church and 14 smaller outstations, which is served by two priests serving this parish. Mass is celebrated every Sunday in the main church and in two other outstations, which means that for some people Mass is not a weekly occurence.   I assisted the Parish Priest at one early Sunday morning Mass in an outstation and was impressed to see people gathered in large numbers to celebrate the Eucharist with great devotion and joy.

The Parish of St Josephs also runs a rehabilitation centre for street children, and by chance, I was visiting the parish when a recently constructed home for the centre was being officially opened.  The work that is carried out by the parish priest, and the Mill Hill sisters who manage the day to day running of the centre is inspiring; they tirelessly try and help young people get their lives back together.

On the 8 hour bus journey to Nairobi from Lauanda I stopped in Kericho, where Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, the same order that looks after us in the College, run the Live with Hope centre in an area dominated by informal dwellings, similar to those I saw in Nairobi. The Live with Hope centre is a clinic where local people can come to be tested for diseases and infections, including HIV.  The centre relies on American government funding, but also generates its own income through its tailor’s shop and a mill where flour is produced.  Sister Placida, of the Paisley Diocese, manages a team of sisters and other support staff who are dedicated to improving the lives of the people of that area.

In many ways, my experiences in Kenya have been overwhelming and you may be able to tell from my reflection that I am still coming to terms with them, and I still struggle to put them into words.  What is certain is that I had a wonderful time and was made most welcome by everyone I worked with and met. The standards of living of the people with whom I spent most time are materially very poor by the standards we in Scotland are used to.  The joy of the people in sharing time with family and friends and the pleasure people took in looking after each other is something I think we can learn a lot from. This is an experience that I will never forget.

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