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Citizen Weekly

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Pomp, colour mark Bishop Obanyi’s consecration as Bishop Emeritus Sulumeti leaves

Australia had been undergoing an Apostolic Visitation. The bishop was a victim in the spotlight. He was accused of being a pessimist who saw a bleak future for the Roman Catholic Church.
Bishop William observed that because the number of young men joining the priesthood was deteriorating, there was need to unite the church; he proposed that the Lutheran and the Anglican pastors should preside over the Catholic Church functions. That the married, single, widowed of all gender, who, having been chosen by their local parishes be ordained as priests.
The Apostolic Nuncio (Pope’s messenger, also referred to as the Papal Nuncio) in Australia, Giuseppe Lazzarotto observed all these with dismay and reported to the Holy See in Vatican. Pope Emeritus Benedict sent Archbishop Charles Chaput as the Visitator (equivalent to investigator) to look into the issue. Upon his advice, the bishop suffered the consequences of his suggestions amid anger in Brisbane (Toowoomba). They felt that the ill-fated bishop did not get time to respond. Back in Kenya, by 1978; somebody had been staring up trouble which would have called for the Visitation.
But 61 years earlier during the WW1 in 1917, the Mother of Christ, is believed, visited Portugal twice. She met three children looking after the sheep. They were; Francis, Jacinta and Lucia. The Mother of Christ taught them how to pray for peace. She told them to spread the news. A lady from Portugal in the name of Edulqueen is said to have come to Kenya in 1952, the year of emergency. Her mission was to spread the prayer of peace as the Mother taught.
A former headman and a catechist in the Catholic Church, is believed, grasped the Edulqueen message. Edulqueen is said to have been buried at St Marys, Msongari in Nairobi upon her death. Then a catechist at Mukumu parish, the late Joseph Musindayi Manyonyi caused a friction between himself and the newly appointed bishop of the newly created Kakamega diocese in 1978. This was two more years before the new and second bishop of the same diocese; Joseph Obanyi Sagwe became a teenager.
 The Catholic critics observed that immediately the Sunday service ended, a group of people led by Manyonyi congregated in homes of members in a sequential manner for more sermons. They marched in a long file. They dressed in white attire. Their priests resembled those from the Catholic Church. With them, they carried fresh flowers with rosaries hanging from their necks. They sang hymns or dirges when going to funeral services. They believed in miracles. Manyonyi believed in long prayers and those who saw or thought they saw the effects of his prayers became his followers. His followers believed that the late Manyonyi was a prophet. It was time for Bishop Sulumeti to show Manyonyi where he belonged.
It became evident that the Rosary Church of Africa, which Manyonyi founded, was operating like a sect under the umbrella of the Catholic Church at Mukumu Parish. The newly named Bishop of Kakamega Diocese, Phillip Sulumeti ex-communicated Manyonyi in the same year from the church together with Lucia Mutola. But Lucia who had received apostolic blessings from Pope Paul VI during his 1969 visit to Uganda decamped Manyonyi and began his own sect of followers. Those who believed they had gone astray and sought forgiveness were allowed back. Today, the Rosary Church of Africa (Itini yi Shimuli/the Flower Church) is a registered entity under the law. Its head office is at Savane in Ikolomani, Kakamega South.
Had Bishop Sulumeti allowed Manyonyi to confuse his flock, he would have been the subject of an Apostolic Visitation, just like the sacked bishop of Toowoomba. The Apostolic Visitation is when a bishop is in under investigations for any misconduct.  The bishop emeritus was first ordained as a priest in Kisumu in 1966 at the age 28.
Before his emeritus status (retirement status of Pope or bishop), he had written two unanswered letters to the Holy See, asking for permission to retire. Like Pope Emeritus Benedict, Bishop Sulumeti cited ill-health as the basis for his resignation and retirement respectively. The Canon Law makes it compulsory for a bishop to retire at 75 but the same law remains silent for the pontiff.
Pope John Paul (the second) refused to endorse the first letter in 1994. His answer was that, “sometime it is good for the diocese to have a sickly bishop”. Unlike Pope Emeritus Benedict, Pope Paul died while in office. However, when the sick Bishop Sulumeti visited the sick Pope Benedict with the second letter, the sick Pope said No. It was his third letter in September, 2012, exactly when the sick bishop was 75, his retirement age when the sick Pope Benedict said yes, perhaps now that he was also a victim.
But the bishop emeritus has had his sickness continue to haunt him like a ghost. While speaking at Makhokho Secondary in Kakamega South during the Ikolomani MP’s home-coming party last year, he revisited his tale of sickness and the operation in South Africa in 2010. “First, they cut your chest. They remove your heart. They repair it and put it back. You spend sixteen hours in “death”. You only come back after that long period through organised people”, he said.
His sickness started way back in 1976. Despite the fact that his retirement was accepted in 2012, it has taken two years for the Holy See to have him rest. Normally, when a bishop retires, Vatican sends in the Apostolic Administrator to oversee the affairs of the diocese on interim basis until the search for a replacement is done. The fact that Bishop Emeritus has served this long denotes that the papacy had a mind and faith in him to let him shepherd the flock for a little longer.
In fact, the late Pope Paul told him that “he must reach Calvary as Our Blessed Lord Jesus did”. Bishop Sulumeti was born on August 15 1937 in a remote village at Kotur in Teso district. The bishop he has passed the mantle to Joseph Obanyi Sagwe, was born in 1967 at Kebiro in Kisii. The Emeritus Bishop Sulumeti became an Auxiliary Bishop in 1972 in Kisumu under the late Bishop John De Reeper from Netherlands. He was appointed later the third Bishop of Kisumu in 1976 before he was transferred to Kakamega Diocese in 1978.
The late Bishop De Reeper inspired young Sulumeti into God’s way of life the same way Rev. Fr. Richard Quinn, then a priest at Kebirigo Parish in Kisii, did for Bishop Joseph Obanyi Sagwe. The new bishop will also thank Bishop Joseph Mairura Okemwa of Kisii diocese for his tutelage. The charismatic bishop ordained young Obanyi as a priest on October 25, 1996 at the age of 29. He later promoted him to be the Vicar General in 2005 in the same diocese.
Bishop Okemwa lectured both Bishop Obanyi and Bishop Maurice Muhatia Makumba (Nakuru) in one of the colleges they went to. The two make a pair of the youngest bishops in our time: Obanyi was 47 while Makumba was 46 at their respective time they received good news. Among other duties Bishop Obanyi has served are was a vicar general, a diocesan co-ordinator for pastoral care from 1996 to 1999.
Bishop Obanyi studied philosophy at St Augustine Mabanga Seminary in 1990. He enrolled at St Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in between 1992 and 1995. The year 1999 saw him enrol in the coveted Pontifical Lateran University in Rome for his Phd in Canon Law. The Vatican Information Service first announced the news of the bishop elect on December 5 2014. Locally, it was Charles Daniel Balvo, the Apostolic Nunciature in Kenya and South Sudan who announced the news on the same day at Bishop Nicholas Stam Pastoral Centre in Kakamega.
Western Province, especially Bungoma (Otunga’s town) and Nyanza Province, especially Kisii have played a significant role in the church. The late Cardinal Maurice Michael Otunga was appointed the first bishop of the newly created Kisii diocese in 1960 where he served for about nine years. Before his consecration last Saturday at Bukhungu Stadium, the bishop elect made a triumphant entry amid pomp and colour at St Peters, Mukumu before he proceeded to Bishop Stam Centre.
Bishop Mairura escorted him while Bishop Maurice Makumba of Nakuru diocese and Bishop Virgillio Pante of Maralal diocese and Fr Luchitio among others received him. Bishop Emeritus was said to be away to welcome the Papal Nuncio in the country, Charles Balvo who also administered the papal oath the following day. At Mukumu, Bishop Okemwa officially handed over his former student to the congregation amid cheers.
As Bishop Pante pointed out at Mukumu, Kakamega diocese has developed far much better than his young Maralal diocese. This implies that Bishop Obanyi has a strong basis from which he has already started building news strategies. To start with, he has 44 parishes with over 450 religious servants. He has a pastoral centre, one minor seminary and 42 major seminarians in various seminaries.
Kakamega diocese brags of having over 110 ordained priests who preside over the flock of about one million people. Kisii diocese where Bishop Obanyi came from has about 400,000 catholics. In Kakamega, there are 280 nursery schools, 260 primary schools and 12 secondary schools. The Eregi TTC, 15 polytechnics, 20 special schools, one for the deaf girls, 18 primary schools for the physically and mentally challenged children and two orphanages.
In the medical care, the diocese brags about St Mary’s, Mumias and St Elizabeth, Mukumu hospitals which stand tall. There are 12 health units in store, one school of nursing at Mukumu and another one for clinical medicine at Mumias. It is the unavailability of the Catholic University to complete the equation in the learning sector in the diocese that remains a thorn in the Bishop Emeritus’ flesh.
 But still he is not happy in his retirement for a number of other reasons. In the spiritual nourishment, Bishop Sulumeti is not happy with some Catholic ministers for not using their pens. During the silver jubilee celebration of the Eregi TTC at St Peters, Mukumu, Chaplin Rev Fr Mackenzie Lwangu challenged them to evangelise more by writing books.
 “Saints like Mathew, Mark, and Luke among others wrote books and letters. My dear brothers and sisters, you are very educated. Even the Holy See knows it. I challenge you to write books,” urged Father Lwangu who rose from humble beginnings.
Bishop emeritus lamented that his diocese is one of best endowed with highly educated clergy but lacks the written word of God. He played a vital role in the new constitution making and in full support of devolution. However, he is not happy with the way the gender balance has been manipulated to the detriment of women.
As pointed earlier in the beginning, the drawbacks in the way of the Roman Catholic Church cannot be overlooked. The story of the sacked Bishop Williams, the story of Bishop Milingo, the story of Bishop Ashihundu here in Kenya point to a religious schism which Vatican does not tolerate, the common factor being married priests/bishops at the pulpits. The story of Manyonyi points to a dwindling number of sheep in the church. The emergent of many “pocket-friendly churches”, full of “miracles” who “steal” Christians from the church nationally and internationally justifies the fact.
However, the new dawn is in the offing. The appointments of young bishops and ordination of young priests for instance - Bishop Makumba and Bishop Obanyi - could be what it takes to instil enthusiasms among the youth as a wake-up call to go to the church. Critics have praised the pontiff for balancing the souls, both spiritually and politically.
You have to recall the situation in Nakuru during the Nyayo regime from the time when Emeritus Archbishop Ndingi  mwana Nzeki was serving up to the 2007 elections violence. Two dominant tribes at loggerheads in the area could not agree on any burning issue. Today Bishop Maurice Muhatia Makumba is a darling of all people in the region due to his modus operandi.
Kakamega diocese consists of numerous Luhya subtribes who do not know how to unite politically, yet they are united in the church under the bishop. They have warmly welcomed Bishop Joseph Obanyi Sagwe, to the extent that they have already nicknamed him as Bishop Sakwa instead of Bishop Sagwe. Sakwa is a common Luhya name.
For Bishop Sulumeti, a Teso, they welcomed him as Bishop Sulumbeti, another Luhya name. But the question is; has the Emeritus Bishop Sulumeti retired really? About retirement, the controversial Bishop of Cleveland Diocese, USA, Alexander James Quinn did not make it out as such. We find it in his letter to the flock titled; The Golden Years or the Anxious Years? The late bishop observes that “there are more questions than answers when it comes to the future stability of retirement because the sacrament character is the one with the priesthood of Jesus Christ,” he wrote.
“A cleric can retire from the office but not from the ordained state and the sacramental duties can be carried on regardless of age or emeritus status,” he said. In other words, Bishop Emeritus Sulumeti can only retire from the Kakamega office and move to his yet-to-be home near Masinde  Muliro  University but will continue serving God so long as the sacramental duties beckon him to. What would happen today if one served God yesterday, but decided to serve Satan today?
 The deputy president William Ruto, Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya, Kakamega senator Khalwale, Amani Coalition leader Musalia Mudavadi were among  thousands of people who attended the holy mass to witness the event. Bishop Emeritus said he would pray for the new bishop. He promised him his obedience. He urged Bishop Obanyi to “keep watch over the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has appointed him the Shepherd”.
For the new bishop of Kakamega diocese, there goes and welcome Bishop Sakwa and goodbye Bishop Emeritus Sulumeti