Nuncio in Kenya: Church in Europe is losing ‘its inner compass’

Archbishop Hubertus van Megen Archbishop Hubertus van Megen celebrates the episcopal consecration of Father John Kiplimo Lelei as auxiliary bishop of Kenya’s Diocese of Eldoret on May 25, 2024. | Credit: Diocese of Eldoret, Kenya

The Church in Africa, which for many years was considered a missionary territory, has evolved and is growing “stronger” compared with the Church in Europe, which seems to have “weakened,” according to the representative of the Holy Father in Kenya.

Archbishop Hubertus van Megen, who was preaching during the episcopal consecration of Father John Kiplimo Lelei as auxiliary bishop of Kenya’s Diocese of Eldoret, highlighted some of the weaknesses of the Church in Europe, which he said reflect an orientation toward secularism.

Van Megen cited the president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of the Archdiocese of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, on the progress of the Church in Africa.

“As the archbishop of Kinshasa, Cardinal Ambongo said some months ago, ‘The Church in Africa has always been considered a daughter of the Church in Europe. However now, with good reason, one can call them sisterly Churches.’ The Church in Europe is weakened, the Church in Africa ever stronger,” he said during the May 25 celebration at Mother of Apostles Seminary Grounds in Eldoret.

The Dutch-born Vatican diplomat added: “The teachings of Western society on abortion, euthanasia, [and] gender theory are clear symptoms of a society that has lost its inner compass and is helplessly floating on the tempestuous sea of human desires, shaken and weakened in every respect.”

“It is evident for everybody to see how the West, a secular society, has lost its vigor and is ever more self-absorbed,” he further said, adding that Western society has shifted “from being a light for the nations” to putting “its lamp under the bushel, its light ever dimmer.”

Van Megen underscored the relevance of the Gospel message to contemporary society.

Jesus’ teachings on holiness and perfection “are not a dream,” he said. “The teachings of Christ are indispensable; they are the only acceptable measure for all human beings, like the compass is the only reliable and indispensable instrument for a captain, finding his way through the dark and tumultuous seas.”

Turning to the bishop-elect, van Megen said: “The bishop is in many ways that captain who sails the ship of the Church through the choppy waters of our times.”

“Dear Father John, you will be criticized in many ways, and people will try to destroy you for the simple reason that you are upholding the teachings of Christ,” he told Lelei.

To contemporary society, the Vatican diplomat said, “the teachings of the Church are a scandal, a stumbling block.”

Yet in “applying the teachings of Christ in our lives we come to understand our shortcomings and sins,” he stated.

“On the rock of Christ our pride is crushed, our vanity revealed. People find that hard to accept,” he continued. “People speak a lot about humility but very few people are able to live it. The teachings of Christ are for many a stumbling block instead of a light for the nations.”

The Nairobi-based Vatican diplomat, who has also been representing the Holy Father in South Sudan, highlighted the need to seek God’s mercy as important and implored: “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”

“Dear John, in dealing with the sheep, think of your own history, a history of holiness but also a history of temptation, like Christ himself. However, Christ was without sin, while none of us can claim to throw the first stone,” he said.

In dealing with the people of God under his pastoral care, van Megen told the bishop-elect to “keep in mind your own need for mercy, and recall how Christ has been merciful with you over the years.”

“Recall your own sinfulness, so as to show mercy with the sheep who run away from the flock. Bind their wounds and carry them on your shoulders,” he told Lelei. “Listen to Christ, the Supreme Shepherd who said: Learn from me, I am meek and humble of heart.” 

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“May you then be pleasing to God by your gentleness and purity of heart, presenting a fragrant offering to the Father, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen,” he implored in reference to the prayer of ordination.

Born in August 1958 in the Diocese of Eldoret, Lelei was ordained a priest for the same diocese in October 1985 after completing his philosophical and theological studies from St. Augustine’s Mabanga Senior Seminary in Kenya’s Bungoma Diocese and St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in the Archdiocese of Nairobi, respectively.

At the time of his episcopal appointment, the newly consecrated bishop was serving as the vicar general of the Eldoret Diocese.

Erected in June 1953 as the Prefecture Apostolic of Eldoret, the 3,600-square-mile episcopal see was elevated to a diocese in October 1959.

The Kenyan diocese, which is part of the ecclesiastical province of Kisumu, has a population of 892,000 Catholics representing 35.8% of the total population in the episcopal see, according to 2021 statistics.

This story was first published by ACI Africa, CNA’s news partner in Africa, and has been adapted by CNA.

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