Nairobi, Kenya. Creative Commons CC0

Learning from history: Kenya Starts Anew from Saint Benedict

The exhibit about the monks who re-built civilization arrives in Nairobi and, for a country that is still torn apart, sets the example–just like the new school that has recently opened in town.
Nunzia Capriglione

“What strikes me the most about this exhibit is how Christianity and faith can affect history, to the point of changing it.” These are the first words that Joakim Koech, the leader of Communion and Liberation in Kenya, uses to talk about the exhibit “With our hands, but with Your strength.” The installment, put together by the Benedictine monks of the Cascinazza monastery in Italy for the Meeting in 2006, has reached the dark continent. The Nairobi community decided to use this exhibit to show the people of Kenya, still shaken by the events that happened after the elections of December 27, 2007, that it is possible to “build a real peace for the people,” as stated in the invitation flyer.

The Work of an Other
It took a few months to get the exhibit ready. First of all, Emanuele Falliti, an engineer who was in Nairobi in 2007 for an AVSI project, translated the panels. Then came the following steps: studying the content of the exhibit, creating the informational material, contacting the religious and political authorities, looking for sponsors, organizing the media coverage, and so on. It was a huge commitment that involved all the friends of the community, and managed to bring the 52 panels to the National Museum of Nairobi from May 16th to the 29th. A few hours after the opening, Chrispine, a Memores Domini, wrote this text message: “The opening went well. The monks from Tigoni were there too. You look at it and say, ‘It happens through our hands, but it is the work of an Other.’”

“The exhibit goes against what is written in history books,” explains Joakim, a literature teacher. “Usually, one is taught that history is made by the grand gestures of powerful men, gifted with exceptional means and skills. Through the exhibit, we discovered that Europe’s re-birth in the fifth century happened though the work of these monks, who were strong precisely on account of their faith. For us, this is a provocation. After the post-election period explosion of violence, the exhibit represents a great opportunity for our entire people to look at a precise moment in history when men of faith contributed to the re-birth of a country. Since the beginning of this year, we have desired that faith become a judgment, a culture, and a new way to live in reality. We want to face circumstances starting from what is positive, recognizing Who is at work. For this reason, I think that the opening of the Cardinal Otunga Secondary School is another concrete example of a faith that generates culture.” On May 23rd, Cardinal John Njue, the Archbishop of Nairobi, participated in the official inauguration of the school. “His paternity moved us,” continues Joakim. “It is a really beautiful school, born thanks to an AVSI project. The beauty of the structure where one studies is important as well, because it is one more factor that spurs one on to the search for Beauty, with a capital B.” In this regard, the letter that the Cardinal sent to the pastors of his diocese, whom he invited to visit the exhibit along with their parishioners because “it sets an example for the construction of a durable peace,” was particularly meaningful.

A Faith that Touches Life
The event has been a truly provoking one for everyone. In front of the panels, Daniel Maanzo, Vice Minister of Youth Affairs, who sponsored the initiative, couldn’t help but say that those images and words were “a great lesson for the Kenyan youths, who so often do not have strong points of reference able to give them hope, and for this reason they lose themselves and end up resorting to violence.” A non-Catholic former ambassador who attended the event commented, “Only the Church and the experience that it generates can give birth to a lasting peace.” Even for Kenya. Koech added, “This truly is an opportunity to re-discover that faith has something to do with our history and our everyday life. At the inauguration, one of the journalists was surprised to notice that even the origin of Parliaments’ structure and the procedure followed for the convocation of assemblies and elections can be traced back to the life of these monks.” It is an example of a faith that touches life and changes it “by spreading into the environment that surrounds those who live this faith. On the contrary, too often in Kenya we relegate faith to the realm of the supernatural; we reduce it to something private, that does not affect the surrounding reality. This is why we decided to propose this exhibit at this precise historical juncture. For us, this represents a great example of hope.” David Cheboryot, a friend who works at a successful local company in Nairobi, explains: “The message that emerges from this exhibit is essential. Work is not merely the realization of a personal project–even a good one. It is answering One that calls you.”