Shepherd to Kenya’s nomads shares challenges

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Bishop Dominic Kimengich of the Diocese of Lodwar in Kenya (Photo by Melo Acuña)

CEBU City, Jan. 29, 2016 – Bishop Dominic Kimengich, a priest for 29 years, now sits as Bishop of Lodwar, a laid-back town some 1,000 kilometers from Nairobi. He is one of three Catholic clergy from his ecclesial province attending the 51st International Eucharistic Congress.

In an interview with CBCPNews, the 54-year-old bishop said his diocese is situated within Kenya’s boundaries with Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia, where some 60 percent of the population are nomads.

The nomads survive by taking care of farm animals and camels in Lodwar’s pastures. Others survive by basket-weaving.

‘Nomadic apostolate’

While 40 percent of have settled in villages and towns, they have organized a special pastoral ministry to attend to the people on the move, called the nomadic apostolate.

“We have nomadic catechists who move with the people in their pastures,” said Kimengich. Should any of the nomads need sacraments, the catechists seek the assistance of the nearest parish priests, he said.

Kimengich is the first local-born priest appointed bishop of Lodwar, located in northwestern Kenya.

Working as bishop for the past five years, he said there lingers a feeling of insecurity in the area as various tribes from different sides of the border remain traditional enemies. The prelate said he was shocked at the high level of insecurity when he arrived in Lodwar five years ago.

“Cattle rustling was common and conflict usually arose when the aggrieved party vowed revenge,” explained the prelate.

The bishop said he was well aware of people being marginalized, which leads to conflict in a place where only a small portion of the population are Catholics. Most of the locals are animists and traditionalists, he said.

More missionaries, please…

The local church is composed of 56 priests, mostly from 18 religious congregations. They also have religious women from at least 20 religious communities.

The diocese is also ably supported by a Filipina development worker for the past four years, named Sandra Villegas, from Negros Island. Kimengich said Villegas first came as a volunteer who wanted more challenging assignments.

“We are looking forward to having more missionaries to help us,” he said.

Asked if Catholics have been victims of violence in the past, Kimengich said there had been none because his predecessors were foreign missionaries who had established schools and other basic services that proved beneficial to local residents. The foreign missionaries reached Lodwar five decades ago.

“The people appreciate the presence of the Church because missionaries introduced schools, built water facilities, attended to their health and provided them with livelihood,” he added.

Good relations also prevail between the local Catholic church and other faiths.

Bishop Kimengich is thankful for the prayerful experience he is having with his two other companions at the IEC.

“This is a forum that brings Catholics together with the Eucharist at the center of worship, where one experiences the universality of the Church,” the prelate said.

He expressed gratitude to the organizers of this year’s event, saying he had experienced a warm interaction among participants and was introduced to the high level of faith of the Filipinos. (CBCP News / Melo M. Acuña)

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