#29- Margo’s talk at Fr. Kiriti’s jubilee celebration

As you know, Fr. Kiriti first visited the US in 1996.  He studied at Santa Clara University where, in 1 year, he finished a 2-year master’s degree in pastoral studies.  Because he came with the clothes on his back and only a few shillings in his pocket, he had to work to support himself, but we all know he has never shirked work.  He soon found the Thomas Merton Center, AKA TMC, long before I found it myself. TMC is a lay-led, Vatican II inspired community within the parish.  We engage our own priests (and pay them) to celebrate our masses, those who share our views.  TMC members heard his message and took him into their hearts.  When he left, he had many friends who continue to love him and support his work.  Some of his TMC friends have written testimonials about him.

29 Marci and Ron Ariagno with KiritiMarci and Ron Ariagno visited Naivasha in 2007.  Ron is a retired doctor, a pediatrician who traveled with a mobile clinic and examined many babies, while Marci visited Mji Wa Neema and lost her heart to the children there.  Since that time she has collected funds to buy clothes and shoes.  Marci writes

We feel so blessed to have been a guest of Fr. Kiriti.  We experienced so much more than our friends who went on a “typical” African Safari, complete with king size bed in a four star tent. Our guest room may not have been as plush as theirs, and our mini “safari” in his compact car a bit scarier when facing a huge water buffalo less than three feet from the car window, but to see this Godly man serving his people on a day-to-day basis was a gift that we will long remember. Our church has been blessed to have him as a priest serving on both continents.  May God continue to give you, Fr. Kiriti, the strength you need to serve His people.

29 Helen Bunje with Kiriti29 Carl Bunje with KiritiHelen and Carl Bunje are very special people, he is a deacon and she is a spiritual advisor.  During Fr. Kiriti’s time studying at Santa Clara University, he lived in a rectory, very near them.  He was a much-welcomed guest at their dinner table and I understand he joined them often.  The whole Bunje family felt him their brother.  Helen writes:

Dear Kiriti, beloved priest and friend, your silver jubilee, such an important celebration!  How I wish Carl and I could be there to celebrate your priesthood with you.  Even though old age has caught up with us, it can never take away the wonderful memories of our happy times together and the many ways we have shared our lives with you.

During your time in California, getting your degree from Santa Clara, it was such a gift to have you living so close to us.  Memories of our sitting in the back yard under the persimmon tree chatting away, sharing our faith and stories, mean so much.

My mother, Phyllis, loved you dearly and wanted to make sure your mother would never have to walk a long way for water again.  I can still see you on the ladder painting (our son) Eric’s house and helping (our son) Mark restore our basement after its flooding.

It was such a privilege to be at Mass when you celebrated and to share a dinner at home.  I laugh when I remember that you liked your beer warm…I had never heard of such a thing.  You were priest and friend to us in so many ways.

I hope you can return to your “California home” this fall.  Carl’s health is declining and it would mean so much to him to see you again.  Our best wishes for a wonderful celebration of your priesthood and our on-going love.

29 Mary Coady with KiritiMary Coady is a founding member of TMC and chairperson of the spiritual education committee.  She says

Warmest congratulations to Father Kiriti on your silver jubilee. You are blessing to us all, and are loved by the people you touch.  I appreciate your down-to-earth, very human nature and the common sense and practical spirit that you bring to everything you do—in  speaking to the Thomas Merton Center (remember your answer to the question about corruption? “Does corruption mean something different in the US?”); in the youth education programs; in caring for the children at Mji Wa Neema; in seeking funds to feed your people during a drought; in building a school for girls.

Your commitment to providing an education to deserving young people, boys and girls, has touched me and many others. Thank you for the opportunity to participate in that commitment, and to enjoy watching a student’s progress and success.

Your homilies, your holiness and goodness, your joy and dancing at Mass have inspired me, enlightened me and brought me joy, as well. I hope to participate someday in liturgy with you in your country.

Most of all, I am grateful for your friendship over the years and miles. I know that I can always count on your prayers. Thank you for blessing all of us, and particularly myself, with your generous friendship.

29 Jean GillJean Gill was so taken with the idea of building a high school for girls, that she became the major donor to that project.  The dining hall is dedicated to her and the computer lab to her late husband.  Jean says

Well, let’s see….When I think of Kiriti, I see a man with a HEART that is BIG, STRONG, TOUGH, overflowing with LOVE & CARING — a mirror of God’s abundant love for all.

May he know, especially at this milestone of his life, how much he is loved in return.  My love and blessings to Fr. Kiriti

 

29 Francois and Edna JamatiEdna and Francois Jamati –another couple who became very close to Fr. Kiriti in his 1996 year in the US.  They frequently welcomed him to their home and their table.

What a joyful and beautiful event to celebrate and speak at!

From the get go, 14 or 15 yrs ago Francois and I were charmed by Kiriti.  He was a humble man of great simplicity.  His frugality when he lived at Santa Clara was an eye-opener to us.  We used to invite him to dinner in our SJ home, trying to “fatten him up” a bit!  We were utterly amazed by his stories of life as a priest in Africa, his personal dedication to his vocation and his availability to his flock.  We love his sense of humor and his perseverance.  As we have grown over the years Kiriti has grown but by leaps and bounds.  His challenges have been endless, both personal and parochial, his faith and trust in God are gift to us and we love him and thank him for being part of our lives and blessing us by his caring, his prayers and simply being who he is.

29 Judy Murphy with SFG studentJudy Murphy is a retired social worker and high school friend of mine.  Many of you know her—she’s the “other mzungu” who has come here many summers.  She has worked with Jecinta Gakahu and raised money to send the children of Mji Wa Neema to high school and now 3 of them to university.  She writes:

It is difficult to put into words all of what I know and feel about Fr. Kiriti.  He is a man who has the ability to be a loving priest to his people, strict when he needs to be and loving at the same time.  He is honest, direct and articulate.  He has a great love for his parishioners, his friends both in Kenya and the US, and all people he meets.  He wants the best for the orphans in his care, for the boys at Archbishop Ndingi and for the girls at St. Francis, the school he helped to build.  His love of God and his Spirit-filled nature give him the gift of preaching, accepting and loving all his people and his family.  He has the gifts of laughter and fun, the gift of sharing his faith with others and accepting the friendship of those who do not share his faith.  His love shines through in all he does and to all who meet him.  He is a beacon of God’s love for all of us.

May your next 25 years be as fruitful!  You are in my prayers always.

29 Craig and Mary NokeCraig Noke visited Fr. Kiriti in Kenya in 1999 and later he and his wife, Mary visited in 2003 and 2007.  Craig is now the president of the board of Kenya Help and a wonderful friend.  He wrote

I had converted to Catholicism just a few years before I first met Fr. Kiriti. He happened to be watering the grass at St. Albert the Great Church at the time I stopped to introduce myself. Little did either of us know that his friendship was a metaphorical watering of my faith. Were it not for his example, I’d likely be a back pew Catholic, just going through the motions. Instead, I try to live my faith every single day, looking out for those less fortunate, just as he does.  Thanks for sprinkling me!

 

 

 

 

29 Henry Organ with KiritiHenry Organ is an African American member of TMC.  He was the very first person to offer help with raising the funds for SFG.  When I spoke to the TMC board, of which he was a member, he spoke right up, “Margo I’d like to help you with that.”  I am forever grateful to him.  He writes

Fr Kiriti occupies a special place in my heart and soul.   As an African American Catholic, I had never met an African Catholic Priest, nor received communion from an African before I met Fr. Kiriti.

I had a chance to know Fr. Kiriti somewhat while I served on the Board of Directors of Kenya Help, which is comprised of lay people. He gave the feeling that he was one of us, that he was not above us because of his ordination.   I was impressed how he interacted with women:  equally and genuinely.  Fr. Kiriti is centuries ahead of most members of the clergy, as the Vatican struggles worldwide with the role of women in the Church. I was impressed that he listened, not just with his ears, but with his eyes, which would show joy, curiosity, spark at a new idea,  or sense a challenge in what he was hearing.

When I think of him, I think in praise of his parents:  Who made a man such as this?  A man who probably chose to serve with and for the poorest of the poor.  When Pope Francis said in March “I want a Church which is poor, and for the poor,” he must have been following Fr. Kiriti.  But, Pope Francis, I think Fr. Kiriti is happy where he is, and so are those whom he serves.  So leave him where he wants to be!  🙂

Finally, Fr. Kiriti epitomizes one of my favorite sayings of St. Francis of Assisi, with whom Pope Francis chose to identify. “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words!

29 Mary WashburnMary Washburn is another member of TMC, who became a good friend of Fr. Kiriti’s during his US sojourn in 1996.

It was many years ago when I first met Fr. Kiriti.  As a member of the liturgy committee, I helped interview priests for our lay-led Catholic community liturgies.  Our community members are strong Vatican II believers who felt Church came from the bottom up rather than the top down.  Fr. Kiriti was very relaxed during our interview with him.  He did think we were a bit outrageous to interview him, but luckily he forgave us.  We realized immediately that Fr. Kiriti was a priest who believed in the importance of community as family.  He is not a priest who feels the job makes him a lord of his congregation, but rather the priest is an important member of the community.  We were blessed to have Fr. Kiriti celebrate with us for over a year.  During that time he and I became friends.  We kept up our communication when he returned to Kenya and through his missionary work in Malawi.  Fr. Kiriti is an inspiration to all on what it means to be a priest.

In 2008, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Kenya, Lamu and Naivasha.  Fr. Kiriti joined my cousin and me for a brief stay in Lamu.  Then we came back to Naivasha with him.  I saw and felt how he interacted with his community there—keeping the spirit of love of God and each other strong amongst his parishioners.  He is a very active person who takes his priestly duties seriously.  I felt at times he was giving too much of himself to his work and people, but that is the way he is.  It is how the Spirit moves through him.

Thank you Kiriti for being a member of the Thomas Merton Center when you were in California.  We benefited from that relationship through your example and homilies.  Your future communities have benefited from our support.  May you continue your love of being a priest and continue being a friend to our community and my family.  Peace and love

29 Kay Williams with KiritiKay Williams is my very dear friend, the one who said to me as I wondered how I could fulfill my dream of teaching math to African girls, “Why don’t you write to my friend, Fr. Kiriti, in Kenya.  I think he’ll have some ideas.  Little did I know!  Kay visited here in 2009.

Please tell Fr. Kiriti that I honor and love him–for his heart for the people, his love of God, his wise goal-setting for the youth who attend his youth education programs, his humor, energy, and determination in the pursuit of his visions.  The Silver Jubilee anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood is a moment to remember his impact on the Americans who came to know him here in Palo Alto.

I remember the first time Fr. Kiriti celebrated Mass at the Thomas Merton Center in 1996.  His lovely Kenyan accent made me listen harder, and I probably missed some of the words at first.  But I was so impressed with his vigor and energy and love of his vocation in the midst of our staid crowd of older, gray-haired Catholics that I knew we had to engage him again as our TMC celebrant.  And that was the beginning of a wonderful relationship.  Fr. Kiriti connected with TMC and we have never let him go.  His requests for a car, funding for a youth seminar, and volunteers kept us aware of the Church in Africa and broadened our understanding of how God works around the world.  And then Margo took up the call to volunteer, and TMC really has never been the same since!

Thank you, Lord, for sending us Daniel Kiriti Kuria.  Keep him safe and healthy and filled with Your love and strength.  Much love and appreciation.

And now my own words:

29 Margo speaking at jubileeFr. Kiriti has brought a wonderful insight to the people in the US.  He roars like Simba, with the voice the old testament prophets, he lovingly teaches the lessons of the New Testament, he listens with the heart of Mary, he advises with the wisdom of Solomon. He speaks to us with the voice of the poor, with the voice of the disenfranchised, the marginalized.  He speaks for the child left without parents, for the single mother who needs to feed her children, for the bright children who can’t pay school fees.  He speaks with the voice of the hungry, the old, the sick, those infected with HIV/AIDS. He has a heart for them all.  He speaks with insight, passion and eloquence to those Americans who are not privileged, as I have been, to come here to meet you in person.

Because I am one of those Americans who has learned so much from Fr. I want to say he is a hard task-master, always sticking to his ideals and beliefs.  At the same time he has been open to new ideas, suggestions and challenges that have stretched his mind to life beyond his immediate surroundings.

He is tough, yet open, he learns quickly and understands deeply.  He has definitely been my teacher and I’d like to think I have been his.  All of us in the US value him and his work so much as evidenced by the trust they have put in him to finance SFG and much more.  It has been a personal blessing to me to know him.

Thank you

=Margo

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