50th Anniversary of Episcopal ordination of Archbishop Ndingi Mwana a'Nzeki

By Rev Fr Dr Ndikaru Wa Teresia. PhD

Archbishop Ndingi was born in Mwala, Machakos in 25th December 1931. He was ordained as a priest in 1961 and as bishop in 1969 by His Holy Father, John Paul VI in Kampala, Uganda, serving in that capacity in the dioceses of Machakos (1996-1971) and Nakuru (1972-1996) before his appointment as Coadjutor Archbishop of Nairobi in 1996 as Coadjutor to then Cardinal Maurice Michael Otunga. He then succeeded Cardinal Otunga in 1997 as the Archbishop of Nairobi and was retired by Pope Benedict XVI on October 6, 2007 after attaining the Catholic Church mandatory retiring age of 75 years.

As we celebrate Emeritus Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki’s 50th Anniversary of Episcopal ordination, there is need to reflect on his unreciprocated and undervalued efforts of championing for the rights of the downtrodden. Unreciprocated because, while others have received honours and awards for their overt eating habits such as Githeri man, beyond the Catholic Church he is rarely perceived as a Shujaa of his time. Yet his contributions as a spiritual shepherd and an ardent civil rights activist are unprecedented.

Though a humble man, Archbishop Ndingi, had courage that confounded even his strongest critics and especially government security operatives. He can best be remembered for his fearless confrontation with the then powerful Provincial Administration who were being used by the Moi regime as instruments of repressing the citizens at the grassroots during the call for multiparty politics.

In 1992 during the one-party rule, the most devastating politically instigated tribal clashes occurred in Molo in Nakuru County of the Rift Valley. Whereas the Rift Valley, inhabited predominantly by the Kalenjins, was perceived to be a Kenya African National Union (KANU) zone and therefore government, other ethnic group’s resident but not indigenous to the Rift Valley joined in in the foray for constitutional change which, naturally, was interpreted as opposition. The repeal of Section 2(a) would pave way for multipartysm and end the one-party era and these political sentiments were intolerable.

Hundreds of residents lost their lives, and property worth millions destroyed in arson attacks. Families lost their homes and land, and thousands sought refuge in internal displaced persons (IDPs) camps. For weeks, Bishop Ndingi, who was the bishop in Nakuru Diocese, welcomed these displaced families, sheltered and fed them for weeks at Christ the King Cathedral in Nakuru. When the killings escalated, Archbishop Ndingi was among the bishops who strongly condemning the government for these acts of violence through pastoral letters read in all churches around mid-March of 1992.

During the repressive KANU regime, Bishop Ndingi became a leading voice or the voice of voiceless on matters democracy and human rights, fearlessly reminding the government of its obligations and the resultant failures attributed to the then leadership. It was a time to stand in solidarity with the people. Archbishop Ndingi never shied away from making his stance known. He did this with mastery and objectivity that did not incite the public against the government by encouraging Kenyans to actively participate in the democratization process. He was unafraid and bore the brunt of criticism well even when people were paid cast aspersions to his good reputation.  

Archbishop Ndingi was also instrumental in support of victims of political clampdown and he once with Fr John Ndikaru Wa Teresia and Fr Francis Mirango, assisted the late Nobel Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai to escape arrest and assassination for opposing the grabbing of public land by politicians and their cronies. He condemned the violence and brute force used to silence members of the opposition and civil society advocates clamouring for a new constitution (Katiba).  

In Kenya today, it is not unusual to see the clergy siding with politicians who have committed social, economic and political ills. The clergy who have publicly criticized politicians when on their pulpits, as an act of betrayal, recant their positions once they have removed their religious garb and are wining and dining with the same politicians. The church should continue fight the evils the country under the weight of corruption, unjustifiable foreign debts, the ever increasing youth unemployment, environmental degradation and the rising epidemic of mental illnesses on its citizenry.   

Having been a priest in the postcolonial era, Archbishop Ndingi made the church became more Africanized in its leadership, the Archbishop made significant changes to enrich the liturgy through song and dance that recognized our African-ness.  

After retirement in October 6, 2007, the former president His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, appointed Archbishop Ndingi as the chairman of the advisory board of the Humanitarian Funds for Victims of Post-election Violence. Having seen the plight of displaced persons in the 1990’s, the former president trusted him with finding a comprehensive solution to resettling and rehabilitating these victims of political violence. To date however, the plight of some Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) still hangs in the balance, many with scars that have refused to heal.
At 88 years old, the prelate, now physically restrained by old age problems, continues to receive visitors, mainly religious pilgrims, at his retirement home in Ruaraka, Nairobi County. Even with his fragile health and episodes of memory loss, he still finds time to share stories, prayers and songs with his visitors. As he ages graceful, we need not forget the contribution of the Emeritus Archbishop in the church and in politics, as an unwavering voice of voiceless in his quest for freedom, justice and peace.

As the Archbishop emeritus celebrates his 50th Anniversary of Episcopal Ordination, it is important for us to review our perception of who our real heroes are and to celebrate those who have made a significant contribution to Catholic Church in Kenya and mankind.

Archbishop Ndingi’s voice is still visible in the agenda for finding a voice for the voiceless. Many changes that have taken place in the Catholic Church in Kenya can be attributed to his personal commitment. This can be seen in the form of both physical infrastructure like churches, schools and hospitals, and the practice of true liturgical worship. And though aged, his words and actions remain engraved on many people’s hearts and minds. His sentiments still echo on church pews and government establishments as a fearless pioneer championing the right of the oppressed and voice of voiceless

Rev Fr Dr Ndikaru Wa Teresia. PhD
Catholic Chaplain/Senior Lecturer
Department of Criminology & legal studies
The Technical University of Kenya