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The Common Thread of a Jubilarian’s Missionary Life

Jubilarian Folkert Kruis MHM reflects on the underlying thread of sixty years of missionary involvement in Kenya.

The common thread

The first thing we all did after arriving in the country we were appointed to was learning the language. There were usually no books to help you, but you could find a teacher to help you. When I told him that I should learn to talk like a child, he said: ‘If you love us, you will learn the language’.

This advice has perhaps become the common thread in my missionary life. Love for the Kenyan, his culture and everything related to it.

At the same time, important social and religious events took place. Kenya was preparing to become independent and the 2nd Vatican Council began. Both events were liberating for me and certainly for the Kenyans. Most, especially the young, see the colonial event as a black page in their history. The intention was that Vat.II opened the doors and windows to a new vision of being church, of mission, of giving the laity a place in ‘being church’.

It also meant an opening to Kenyan people, their culture, their history. Until then, the Church had paid little attention to the way Kenyans had been religiouis for centuries and lived their faith in God.

I soon noticed in my discussions with young Kenyans that they apologized when we discussed their customs, values. I think they had to show vis-a-vis a European that everything related to their culture was inferior to the European model. When I recently spoke with a Kenyan confrere about the still much too western Church in Kenya, he said: “Maybe most Kenyan priests feel happy in such a “European” Church. He meant the pre-Vatican II church. What I now see in the Church here makes me very sad.

When I became a parish priest in 1968, I thought I now had an opportunity to start renewal, including introducing the local language into the liturgy. Instead of the Asperges right at the start of Sunday Mass, someone had made a song in the local language. Former catechist Dominic Osyanju, who was always on the first bench, moved to the last bench. It was his way of showing that he didn’t agree. An important lesson for me. Changes in liturgy, customs, culture of the people require a lot of discussion, study and time and love for the people and their culture. This was also the case with my fellow Mill Hillers. But few were open to Vat.II and to changes in the liturgy.

In 1977 I was able to follow the missionary course in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Little did I surmise then that this was the start of a new 25-year period in my life during which I was asked to teach in different institutions. It began in 1978 with the taking over of the Institute for the Training of Catechists. I had modified the course so that I was free every other year to give workshops to the members of pastoral councils, for a new set-up of parishes, developing small communities where people experience that they are “church”, with many responsibilities also in the preparation of the catechumens, in liturgy, being aware of one’s own culture. Eventually I ended up in the pastoral institute of Amecea where priests, religious and laypeople came for a renewal year, the renewal initiated by Vat.II and the African synod . My input was mainly on liturgy and communications. Culture plays a decisive role in both disciplines. When I had the opportunity to start a new parish in 2002, I was able to put into practice what I had taught all these years. After ten years, I felt it was time to turn the parish over to young diocesan priests and was asked again to teach at the Mill Hill Training Center in Luanda. Currently there are 8 candidates from Uganda and three from Kenya. A few days ago I was back in Luanda. My topic: “Intercultural communication”. I have come full circle now.

Folkert Cross mhm

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