In early February, I presided at the Chapter of the General Vice Province of Kenya, which was held at the Rosa Mystica Spiritual Centre in Nairobi. Normally, this would not be one of my responsibilities; either the General Minister or the General Definitor for Africa would preside at these chapters. With the nomination of Brother Vicente Kiaziku as Bishop of Mbanza-Congo, however, other arrangements had to be made this time. Happily, the lot fell to me. The chance to see Kenya was something of a dream come true for me.
This was only my second time in Africa, the first being for the meeting in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, last November with the two African Capuchin Conferences. I expected tropical temperatures and humidity, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that due to Nairobi's altitude (almost 1,700 meters or 5,500 feet), its climate is much like my province's home city of Denver, Colorado. The days were warm and sunny, and the nights were pleasantly cool. Another stereotype bites the dust!
The Chapter itself was a great experience. The 37 friar-delegates enthusiastically participated in the business of the Chapter. There were lively debates about formation programs, ministries, the organization of fraternities and ways to improve the Vice Province's economic self-sufficiency. The atmosphere was in sharp contrast with most of the chapters I have attended, where the level of enthusiasm is, shall we say, more contained. This was also the first chapter I have attended in which all five members of the new Council were elected on the first ballot. I gave myself credit, but I'm sure the Spirit had something to do with it, as well.
I must also note the great spirit of fraternity during the Chapter. I was made to feel quite at home during my entire stay in the country. I was struck again by the power that lies in our Franciscan vocation: that people from geographical areas and cultural backgrounds as different as mine and the Kenyans could live together as brothers.
I would have liked to stay much longer in Kenya in order to see the Serengeti and the Rift Valley, but that was not possible. I did, however, talk one of the brothers into taking me to see Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa. There I met briefly with a local Pan-African Conciliation Team (PACT) of the Damietta Peace Initiative. I also visited "Bomas of Kenya", a cultural center just outside Nairobi. I made a point of visiting a recreation of a Luo village to see how the ancestors of my current President once lived.