‘Uhai tele’: a fully lived life

‘Abundance’ takes on new meaning for delegates returning from Kenya

Rose Blesener had barely landed back on U.S. soil when she sent an email to the people she had met during the recent delegation trip to Homa Bay, Kenya. She wanted to let them know she and the other 15 delegates from the Diocese of St. Cloud had returned home safely.

And, just as promptly, she received a response.

“We thank the Almighty God for granting you journey mercies. Your stay with us was a real blessing; for sure we shall miss you big. Otherwise we thank God for the gift of brothers and sisters. … You shall forever remain in our hearts,” the email read.

Bishop Donald Kettler blesses each of the six new priests he ordained Feb. 25 at St. John’s Seminary in Rakwaro , Kenya. Photo courtesy of David Mertens
Bishop Donald Kettler blesses each of the six new priests he ordained Feb. 25 at St. John’s Seminary in Rakwaro , Kenya. Photo courtesy of David Mertens

Blesener is a member of St. Peter Parish in St. Cloud, which is twinned with St. Paul Parish. The two parishes together have a sister parish relationship with St. Peter Church in Oyugis, Kenya, in the Homa Bay Diocese.

Blesener and her husband, Bill Daly, were a host family for the 2014 delegation from Homa Bay to St. Cloud. They hosted Celine Atieno and, for part of the time, Father Patrick Marcelline, the pastor in Oyugis.

During the latest delegation that left for Kenya Feb. 15 and returned March 1, Blesener was overjoyed to visit Atieno and Father Marcelline in Oyugis.

“It was wonderful to reconnect with [them],” Blesener said. “The whole idea of the trip is to build relationships. The delegation is not project oriented; we did not build a building. We spent our time learning about our brothers and sisters, getting to know their experiences, their lives.”

The 16 delegates from the St. Cloud Diocese were sent out to seven different locations in the Homa Bay Diocese. As much as possible, they were sent out two by two. Blesener was paired with Brianda Cediel, a member of St. Paul Parish in St. Cloud.

The two attended liturgies at the parish as well as at an outstation, which is a group of faithful who are not large enough to have a parish on their own. It consisted of a tarp with plastic chairs underneath.

“When we got there, the people were full of faith, ready to witness,” she said. “They sang, danced and welcomed us warmly. After Mass, they served a meal. Women were preparing the food right outdoors. They really gave all they had.”

Blesener and Cediel visited schools, a clinic where they met nursing students and a co-op in a rural area where some of the locals farm together, stock a fish pond and raise chickens, cattle and goats to sell. Some also made handwoven baskets, pottery and craft items.

“By working together, they felt they could improve their lives,” Blesener said. “In everything we did, it was a renewal of basic truths, that we are all brothers and sisters, we are all one Catholic Universal Church. The emphasis always was that we are all on this journey together, to help and support each other in our faith.”

Global bonds

Bishop Donald Kettler, who was also part of the delegation, said this is really what the missionary experience is all about — partnership and journeying together in faith.

“The missionary work of the church is so important,” he said. “That was the command that Jesus gave to the apostles and the disciples, to go out and bring the message to the ends of the earth.”

He said he has always been amazed at the efforts of the people in the Diocese of St. Cloud — through the Mission Office, parishes, priests and individuals — in developing these global bonds.

Delegate Marvin Skwira, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Opole , makes a new friend at the dedication of a new parish in Homa Bay, Kenya. Photo courtesy of David Mertens
Delegate Marvin Skwira, a member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Opole , makes a new friend at the dedication of a new parish in Homa Bay, Kenya. Photo courtesy of David Mertens

“There is a very deep concern for the missionary work of the church, and I see it played out very well here with this partnership,” he said. “That’s why it was such a blessing for me, to see something more than just talking about it, that we were out bringing the message of Jesus and in that process getting to know one another better and our dioceses getting to know each other better.”


Bishop Kettler stayed with Homa Bay’s Bishop Philip Anyolo. While there, he dedicated a new church, blessed a new primary school, celebrated Mass at a girls’ high school and ordained six new priests.

“The ordination was a great celebration,” he said. “Bishop Philip wanted to use that ordination to make note of the value and the blessing that the partnership has been.”

He also met with the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph with whom the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls have a sister relationship. He also enjoyed a recreational break at a national park where he saw native wildlife and concluded his trip with Mass at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Homa Bay.

“I was most impressed with the understanding, knowledge and friendship of the people,” he said. “I assured them I would support the partnership in every way possible and pass on to my successor the hope that this relationship will continue on. I will always remember their hospitality, and I have hope that they will come and visit us. The relationship that was formed [in 1999] won’t go away.”
Sharing the joy at home

“Uhai tele” is a Swahili phrase that means, “fully lived life.” Both dioceses adopted this theme for the delegation, which was drawn from the Gospel of John 10:10: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

St. Cloud Mission Office director Elizabeth Neville, who was also on the delegation, said that as part of the group’s preparation, delegates were asked to reflect on what abundance meant to them.
Over the course of the trip, Neville said many of the delegates developed a new understanding of the word.

“When going to a place where you physically don’t see an abundance of ‘things’, we found an abundance of love, joy, hope and the abundance of being brother and sister and the abundance of faith.”

Dave Mertens, a member of St. Ann Parish in Wadena, along with Father Michael Wolfbauer, pastor of St. John Parish in Foley and St. Patrick Parish in Minden Township, stayed at the home of Father Jacob Ombinja in a rural area with a parish called Osogo. This was a new location for delegates this year.

They visited many homes, including one family who had just welcomed a new baby boy. After meeting Mertens, the family decided to name their son after him.

“That’s just how they are there, so welcoming, so full of joy,” he said. “Now I have a new Kenyan grandson.”

Mertens has kept in touch with Father Ombinja, who emailed him to ask how his first Sunday back home was.

“While I was sitting in church on Sunday, all I could think of was that little church with no windows and a dirt floor,” Mertens said. “And how joyful it was, how much I miss it.”

Mertens said the trip strengthened his faith and he is excited to share that with others.

“Through the material lens, you wonder how they feel blessed when they have so little,” he said.

“What I saw in them is that they were much richer in their faith, in their joy and in their thanksgiving for every day. I learned you can feel very blessed with very little. That’s what I hope I can share with people.”

Homa Bay: A priest’s perspective

Father Aaron Kuhn
Father Aaron Kuhn

Father Aaron Kuhn, pastor of St. Ann Parish in Wadena and St. John the Baptist Parish in Bluffton, was one of four priests who participated in the delegation to Homa Bay, Kenya, in February. This is his second trip to the sister diocese, after having been part of the 2004 delegation while a seminarian. The Visitor asked him to describe his latest experience. His answers have been edited for length.

Q. As a priest, was your experience different from other delegates?

Father Kuhn: There are certain insights [I had] about both of our cultures, since it is part of a pastor’s job to evaluate the culture and find ways of sharing the Gospel in it.
One thing I noticed is that — poverty aside — the struggle to be Catholic in a secular world is the same for all of us. The fast-moving technology, the busyness of work and extracurricular activities and the social pressures of power, popularity and wealth, affect the wellbeing of our families in much the same way.
The Christian faith struggles to take root, because we all presume “being a good person” is enough, when the reality is that God wants everything, and being faithful to God’s ways is a full-time job.

Q. What impact might your trip to Kenya have on your ministry?

Father Kuhn: Our Catholic social teaching reminds us that poverty can inhibit the Gospel from taking root, and when poverty is relieved, then other parts of culture can grow.
One of the more dramatic elements in visiting Homa Bay was seeing how education and health care can rapidly help a culture to develop. The missionaries worked hard to build schools, and in doing so, they helped the local culture blossom, so that the younger people were able to go to high school, college and now return to develop local commerce, the schools and bring in a medical clinic.

The parishioners told stories of how Christianity has reduced some of the bad behaviors that used to be present in the area. Basic Gospel narratives, like the Good Samaritan, have changed how people view one another in love.

Q. What message do you hope to share with your parishioners and others in the diocese from your trip?

Father Kuhn: The thing I hope to impress most is a sense of solidarity with our “marafiki,” or friends, across the world. It is not easy to maintain a long-distance friendship with people we may not have met before. But doing so will bring about many graces. We must be creative in finding ways to communicate and to pray for one another. Our partnership is a real relationship, which God has organized for us through the church.

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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