Into Africa: Members of the Holy Cross Tribe

Several of our East African Holy Cross priests

Fr. Pat Neary, C.S.C., our correspondent in East Africa and our seminary rectory there, has sent in his latest blog post. It is a moving reflection on the reality of tribes in Africa and how Christian community, especially our religious community in Holy Cross, can be a sign of the coming of the kingdom we have been praying for this Advent season.

It is hard to explain the importance of tribes and clans in East Africa. People identify with their tribes and clans the same way we Americans identify with America, or the way Notre Dame Alumni identify so profoundly with their alma mater and its famous football team.
In Kenya, politicians frequently exploit tribal differences. If they are accused of corruption, they tell tribal members that they are all being attacked. In the wake of the 2007 post-election violence, over 1000 Kenyans lost their lives and over 500,000 were displaced because politicians and business elites inflamed and incited old ethnic hatreds to their own purposes. Kenya teetered on the brink of civil war.
Just this week, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, brought charges against six high-profile suspects who allegedly incited or facilitated ethnic violence following Kenya's 2007 elections. Among the accused are three Kenyan ministers, including the deputy prime minister. There is great support for the ICC among the majority of Kenyans who want to see justice done and the culture of impunity ended.

In our formation house in Nairobi, watching the 9 O’clock news is sacrosanct. We have been following these events closely. Our meal conversations often turn to the topic of tribal tensions and how to overcome them. Around the table we have Kenyan Holy Cross men who are of the Kikuyu, Kamba, Luo, Luhya, and Iteso tribes. We have Ugandan Holy Cross men who are of the Baganda, Batooro, Bakonzo, and Alur tribes. We have one Tanzanian Holy Cross religious who is of the Mjita tribe. Finally, we have one West African from Ghana who is of the Akan tribe.

Holy Cross Seminarians in East Africa

I think that Holy Cross has achieved something that is a model for what Kenya can be and what the world can be. When young men enter the Candidate Program in Jinja, Uganda, formators work hard to communicate that they now belong to one tribe, one family, and one community: Holy Cross. Men from similar tribes are cautioned about speaking to each other in their own tribal language, less a brother not of their tribe feel excluded. In our house there is only good-natured ribbing about tribal and national differences. There is a joke going around that Swahili was born in Tanzania, got sick in Kenya, died in Uganda, and was buried in Congo!

The Ordination Celebrations in Kenya

Holy Cross understands that tribal culture is meant to enrich human life, not divide it. After our ordination Mass in September, for example, our men put on a traditional Ugandan dance to the delight of the majority Kenyan crowd.

Each night in McCauley House, as we conclude supper, one religious is asked to offer a prayer in his local tongue. Our men in formation have become closest friends and brothers in Holy Cross. They truly strive to live these words found in the Holy Cross Constitutions:

“It is essential to our mission that we strive to abide so attentively together that people will observe: 'See how they love one another.' We will then be a sign in an alienated world: men who have, for love of their Lord, become closet neighbors, trustworthy friends, brothers.”

More of our Holy Cross Tribe in East Africa

As we await the Prince of Peace at Christmas, all of us Holy Cross men at McCauley House wish to be this kind of sign in Kenya. And after the work of the Hague is completed, we pray that there might be a newfound desire among Kenyans to truly become one people and nation, a land able to celebrate the beauty of its astounding cultural diversity and heritage.

It’s funny how you hear the Bible differently in East Africa, especially in the Old Testament when you hear the stories of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, or in the New Testament when you hear St. Paul boast about being of the tribe of Benjamin. Our men at McCauley House all come from tribes. Most Americans have no tribal affiliation—unless they happen to be Native Americans—though if we carry an Irish surname, we know that it speaks of ancient Irish tribes and clans.

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