Ahead of Pope Francis’ arrival in Kenya tomorrow, little children, many of whom have lost parents from AIDS, cannot wait for the Holy Father to be in their country, and one sister says he is light who is coming in the darkness.
In an interview with ZENIT on Monday, Kenyan Sister Maureen Ogundeph, 32, from the Diocese of Homabay, of the congregation of the Sacramentine Sisters of Bergamo, reflected on the Pontiff’s visit to the African nation, saying, “In fact, he has come at the right time when we needed him, a moment our country is faced with high insecurity, corruption, high rise of HIV, youth disintegration and economic crisis.”
Pope Francis makes his first Apostolic Visit to Africa Nov. 25-30, and will be visiting the capitals of Kenya, Uganda, and Central African Republic.
The charism of the Sacramentine Sisters of Bergamo is perpetual adoration and educating youth at all levels with the motive of helping them love Jesus in the Eucharist. The community of seven sisters live at Emmaus Parish Rongo in the Homabay Diocese and is composed of two Italian sisters, three Malawian sisters and two Kenyan sisters.
The sisters have a nursery school with 320 children, ages 2 to 6, from morning to evening, helping them to grow holistically. They provide pastoral work in the parish, where they accompany Catholic women and try to empower them, along with pontifical missionary children and youths whom they also accompany in their spiritual, moral, emotional and social growth. The nuns also do pastoral visits to nearby primary schools to give pastoral instruction to children in schools, since they rarely have time for catechesis at the parish.
In this interview, Sister Maureen speaks about the little ones and the challenges they face, as well as what Pope Francis and his visit means to them. Moreover, she says what they have been doing to prepare for his arrival, why she sees the visit to be so important, and what the little ones think of the Holy Father.
ZENIT: How are the children? What is it like to help them?
Sister Maureen: The little ones are very simple, a number of them very vulnerable. They come to school in the morning between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.. They are from different types of families, some are from average families, some are orphans of parents who died of AIDS, some are from single parents and some are from very poor families. At school we try to put them in the same level, to provide them with love and attention which they lack, to provide them with meals, (we offer them break and lunch) and to teach them values necessary for their growth. In a real sense they spend more time with us than with their parents.
ZENIT: Can you describe the excitement around Pope Francis’ visit? Especially for all of you and all the children you help?
Sister Maureen: We are so excited. I mean everyone talks just about Pope Francis, at the market, shops, and everywhere. Every morning after Mass we and the Christians are having commitment of offering prayers for him and every evening at vespers in our community. We wish to see him; we want to hear his message for us. His coming brings hope and encouragement to us. In fact, he has come at the right time when we needed him, a moment our country is faced with high insecurity, corruption, high rise of HIV, youth disintegration and economic crisis. We believe he is bringing us Christ’s message and we are ready to welcome him.
ZENIT: What do the little ones think of Pope Francis?
Sister Maureen: They think he is holy, that he loves children because they see pictures of him with children and they hear their parents speak well about him. They say he must be as kind as our bishop. They wish they could get access to him, only that we can’t bring them all to him.
ZENIT: Will you see Pope Francis? When? Will you go with the little ones? Approximately how many?
Sister Maureen: We have got a lot of demand from the community around and even our bishop to have a continuity of our nursery school to primary because around this area there are many non-Catholic schools, children attend school everyday even weekends from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., so there is no time for church and even for formation, but with the little we get we cannot expand — though we have bought the land for this project. So having primary could be a good opportunity to lay good foundations for the children from this big community.
The biggest challenge we face is that we have our nursery school which was built around 20 years ago with the iron sheet roofs which are really worn out, are leaking and need to be replaced. Another challenge is to provide the children with food every day. It is very difficult because food is expensive and most parents cannot pay a high fee. We struggle with farming to supplement, but, at times, it’ s difficult to make ends meet.
ZENIT: Do you think this visit will help to confront these challenges? What needs to be done to help?
Sister Maureen: Of course, yes. Pope Francis is very optimistic and motivational. His coming will enlighten us on how to move on with hopes, will motivate Kenyans and especially the youths and will encourage us amidst the challenges we face.
ZENIT: Why, from your point of view, is this visit to Africa and Kenya so important? What do you hope for it?
Sister Maureen: This visit is important because we view Pope Francis as our leader, our father, our, mentor, role model and advisor, and so we know he has a message of light where we have been in darkness, of hope where we are losing hope, of love where we have planted hatred, of unity where we have created division, of wisdom where we are living in mediocrity and of truth where we have always fenced the truth with lies. We hope for light after this darkness, for taste that we have lost, for pride in our house the church and to focus ahead.
ZENIT: As a sister helping these children who have such difficult family situations, how have the Pope’s words about ‘reaching out to the peripheries’ touched you?
Sister Maureen: It has touched me in that it has given me hope and I feel more encouraged. To know that he is together with us spiritually is very encouraging.
ZENIT: Anything else you would like to add? Any appeals or prayers?
Sister Maureen: Let’s wait with joy and hope for the coming of our Holy Father. If there is a person, people, an organization concerned with the welfare of these children we handle who desire to assist us in one way or the other, we would really appreciate, especially in terms of changing the roofing, helping with the feeding program or assisting in the construction of the primary school.
Let’s pray together before Jesus in the Eucharist that our heart may be drawn more to him and that we may learn from him to serve the hum
anity. God bless.
ZENIT: How could one donate if they want to help?
Sister Maureen: To help, there are two ways to donate into our accounts:
To learn more about making donations, contact:
Sacramentine Sisters of Bergamo
P.O. Box 207-40404
Rongo – Kenya.