A Partnership in its Prime

Gilbert Namwonja, CRS Kenya’s information officer, shares how the Dioceses of St. Cloud, Minn., and Homa Bay, Kenya, have built a powerful partnership.

After a week living in the Diocese of Homa Bay in western Kenya, the 20 Catholics from the Diocese of St Cloud, Minnesota, not only knew how and when to say “ero kamano,” but they were using it very well and very often.

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LeRoy Keppers presents a gift from the Diocese of St. Cloud to Father John Philip Odero of the Diocese of Homa Bay. Photo by Gilbert Namwonja/CRS

“Ero kamano” is the local expression for “thank you,” but it seemed to carry more emphasis when it was said by the parishioners from St. Cloud. Judging from their account of the hospitality they received in Homa Bay, it appears they could find no better word to describe their feelings of appreciation.
I spent the two last days with the parishioners after their stay with Kenyan hosts. Each of the visitors spent time in different parishes within the diocese and experienced Kenyan life and culture. Now they were sharing their experiences, evaluating the partnership, and saying “thank you” and “bye, bye” in a new language they had learned.
I took note of a few experiences they mentioned. One was the simple things Kenyans take for granted here but that really take on a new meaning when someone else talks about them. For example, the parishioners mentioned they had to get used to roosters crowing early in the morning. They also appreciated eating “freshly cooked meals from garden to table.”
They certainly came across examples of poverty, but even so they were amazed by the joy the people radiated in spite of their situation. A depiction from one of the parishioners was apt: “I saw people who have little but still have a great sense of pride in what they do. I saw mainly faces of extremely happy people who don’t think they are poor. I saw people dancing, singing and clapping.”
Jim Rudolph was humbled when he visited a blind, deaf and dumb woman living in a little mud house. They visited her with the local priest, and the lady, probably close to 100 years old, “was just into anointing and receiving communion!” At the end of the visit, Jim summed up his feeling saying “We really experienced what the community blessings and sacraments are all about, and of course we were there because we were trying to cement our parish partnership.”
All the visitors had a lot of different experiences to share, but a common conclusion was appreciation for the hosts. Father Mark Stang summed it well by saying, “I just felt so welcome. I really [cannot help] to say you are brothers and sisters in Christ, and I don’t see you as strangers, not at all, not any of you any longer.” When the visitors and hosts attended a final mass together, exchanged gifts, and said goodbye, there was no doubt in my mind that they would be meeting again in the near future. This partnership between the Dioceses of St. Cloud and Homa Bay is really a partnership in its prime

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