Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana a' Nzeki Biography: A glimpse into the life of a pioneer priest

By Tom Odhiambo

The biography of retired Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana a' Nzeki probably would never have come at a better moment.

Caught in the crosshairs of the politicians' threats and innuendoes about 2012, the country is in a moral conundrum. And maybe, the story of the 'little boy" from Mwala in Ukambani who became a pioneer African priest, bishop and archbishop will provide some inspiration.

Ndingi's journey to priesthood can best be summed up as a journey of trials and tribulations that saw him attend seminaries run by no-nonsense rector-fathers in Kenya and Tanzania. Ndingi persevered through the hardship but not by simply conforming.

He would challenge authority whenever he felt that those in administration were a bit too hard on the seminarians. It is this streak, the ability to stand up to authority which actually marked Ndingi out and probably defines his life in the service of the church.

Colonial rule

Ndingi joined the church when the country was still under colonial rule and even the Church hierarchy was largely white. Racial tension between white priests and their black counterparts formed part of his early experiences. The biography notes many instances when Ndingi would put his foot down and confront white priests whose pronouncements and actions towards black priests like Ndingi were racial and condescending.

For Ndingi and the early African priests the challenge of starting life as celibate men was both personal and communal. Their communities frowned on the idea of unmarried adult men yet the Church demanded selfless service to God. This conundrum remains with the Church up to now as recent debates in the media attest. The question of celibacy has been at the foundation of the Church for many years.

The writers of the biography detail a case of a priest who had a relationship with a nun when he was serving under Archbishop Ndingi. The bishop still thought of the fallen priest as a child of God who needed to be treated with compassion.

His time as the bishop of the Nakuru Diocese was probably the most trying; what with the monster of ethnic clashes that broke out in the early 1990s in Rift Valley.

Many battles that Ndingi fought and won, on behalf of his congregation, Christianity and Kenyans in general are well documented by the two biographers.

Many questions

Yet many questions shadow the biography. For instance, why he was never made a cardinal (though an explanation is offered by the biographers); his position on the 2005 Constitutional Referendum and his mellowing in the face of a corrupt Narc government will deny the cake its icing. We hope that maybe one day the good old archbishop will "tell his own story"; and that we shall then have some answers to the lingering questions.

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