Easter is the most solemn holiday in the Christian calendar. In it, Christians commemorate the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus, the legend from Nazareth. Unlike Christmas which is marked by debauchery and decadence, Easter is all about Worship services, prayers, vigil, fasting and giving alms.
Consider Fr Victor Luke Odhiambo, a Catholic Priest. He was brutally murdered by armed men while serving a church in South Sudan in at the Daniel Comboni Jesuit Residence in Cueibet in November 2018.
Four of the Jesuits in the community at that time had already gone to sleep. Fr Odhiambo was in the TV room when the assailants attacked. When the rest of the companions heard gunshots and noise, they pressed the alarm and the killers ran away. Unfortunately, Fr Odhiambo was already dead according to the Eastern Africa Jesuits.
The motive and assailants were not known. At the time of his death, Fr Odhiambo was the principal of Mazzolari Teachers College in Cueibet and acting Superior of the Community since January 30, 2017. The 63-year-old had worked in South Sudan for about 10 years at the time.
Still in November 2018, a Kenyan Catholic Priest, Fr Cosmas Omboto Ondari, who hails from Kisii County, was shot dead in Manyu, Cameroon.
According to the St Joseph Missionary Society Mill Hill Missionary’s Formation Centre in Cameroon, the priest, who was ordained on March 26, 2017, was reportedly killed by the Cameroon military.
Fr Ondari was serving as the Parochial Vicar of the St Martin of tours Parish in Kembong, the headquarters of Manyu, Cameroon.
Fr Richard Njoroge of the Formation Centre issued a statement to the effect that Fr Ondari was shot “directly on the left side of his chest and around his private parts. He died on the spot and was preserved at about 6pm at the Mamfe District Hospital Mortuary.”
Barely a year before Fr Odhiambo was killed in the troubled nation, Bishop Joel Mwendwa, then serving the Christ Ministry in Juba’s Munuki neighbourhood, was hacked to death on June 24, 2017 for preaching ‘too loudly’ during his morning prayers.
Bishop Mwendwa was leading a congregation of Kenyans when his assailant described by police as “a boy” and a neighbour of his church along Bilpam Road in Munuki estate, Juba, killed him using a panga during the 6.30am prayers.
The suspect then ran to a nearby house from where police smoked him out. He confessed to committing the offence, claiming the bishop has been a nuisance to them with his morning prayers,” said Brigadier Daniel Justin speaking on behalf of the police.
Bishop Mwendwa, whose congregation were over 3,000, hailed from Wote in Makueni County and had been preaching in South Sudan for over 10 years. He left behind a widow and two children.
Witnesses said the boy often smoked illicit substances and that the two started having differences when the bishop travelled back from Kenya only to find that he (boy) had stolen the church’s bamboo fence.
Catholic Archbishop Martin Kivuva of Mombasa said it was up to Kenya’s High Commissions to protect Kenyans, especially those working and living in foreign areas.
Although church regulations dictate that priests be buried where they died, Fr Ondari, 33, was buried at the Nyabururu Mission graveyard in Kisii County.
Apart from the killing outside Kenya’s border, the clergy is no safe in their country too.
Others were victims, not of marauding militia but power struggles and had to be eliminated to finger the cash till. Like Fr John Njoroge Muhia of Kinoo Parish in Kiambu County.
He was accosted by four robbers on motorcycles in December 2018 and shot dead by unknown assailants while taking the Sunday Mass offerings to the bank.
They obstructed the priest’s car on a rough road, forced him to stop and demanded the bag that he had in his car.
One of the robbers reportedly drew a pistol, shot Njoroge in the chest and snatched a bag and mobile phone before escaping on the motorcycles. The priest was pronounced dead on arrival at the county hospital. Photos of priest’s car show that the robbers had fired through the front windshield.
Fr Njoroge was said to have been a victim of money and power struggles within the church among other issues.
Adiel Nyange, the Kiambu County police commander, said they had launched a manhunt for the killers and three weeks later, four suspects were killed in a police ambush in Parklands, Nairobi.
The four were trailed by police and killed near K1 Club as they walked for a robbery mission and two pistols recovered from them. Police said the salon car they were using is the same one they had when they attacked and killed Fr Njoroge.
Others were outsiders who made Kenya their base. Like Italian Bishop Luigi Locati who was posted to Kenya in 1963 before his 34th birthday.
He helped establish the Isiolo Catholic learnt local languages and dialects, knew the terrain like the back of his hand.
But he was shot dead while walking home from the Isiolo Pastoral Centre on July 14, 2005. The bullet shattered his right shoulder, neck and jaw. Despite efforts to save him by doctors at the Isiolo District Hospital, Lucati who had served the diocese for 40 years, was pronounced dead minutes later.
President Mwai Kibaki attended his funeral and promised the police would get behind the gruesome murder. A few days later, two local priests Cyril Mukuchio and Peter Malley Guyo Waqo, were arrested and charged with Lucati’s murder.
Both had disputes with Bishop Lucati regarding money linked to church projects including two schools the Bishop closed.
Police, however, could not link Mukuchio with the murder, and he was released later, leaving Fr Waqo and his six co-accused to face full trial.
Nine years later, Justice Fred Ochieng ruled that the five should face the death sentence of which Waqo was convicted.
Despite admitting that he does not have any regrets about his dark past, Fr Wawo told The Nairobian that prison life in Kenya is hell on earth and is now awaiting his day with the hangman.