A Missionary Journey in Kenya

Receiving more than I give

Australia Makes you Fat…

I just returned from Australia after my 2 month holiday and I discovered I had regained 7 of the 8kg I had lost in Kenya (I thought it was an error but the same scales before and after can;t be too far wrong).  I wonder how that happened… must be heavy water in Australia. I guess it will fall off in the next few months.

Unfortunately I picked up a cold just before I left and by the time I arrived in Nairobi I had developed bronchitis and needed 3 days in Nairobi to rest and take a few antibiotics.

This was probably a blessing as it gave me a chance to catch my breath and grab some sleep. The last few days before leaving OZ were quite busy… good, but tiring.  Thanks to the community at Mazenod College WA for the nice welcome and hospitality.

I was a bit sinful getting on the plane with a bit of excess cabin baggage, but it helps a lot to stock up on electronic goodies on the way back: some old phones, some new phones, some second hand computer memory and computer expansion kits (make 3 computers out of one desktop – just add screen, mouse and keyboard). I also received an old laptop and an iPad (very helpful).

In my checked-in baggage (42kg – thanks to Emirates giving a Missionary allowance), I had books, a theodolite (doesn’t everyone have one of those?), a few clothes, some general tools, 200 rosary beads and a few other things. I was a little worried about getting stopped at customs in Nairobi, but the lady just asked a few questions about the theodolite (but she was happy it was a donation and being used to help our projects in the parish).

I did get stopped by an undercover policeman (drug squad) who checked my passport and started quizzing me about my 2008 visit to Laos (near Thailand). He said it is a centre for drugs… I wondered why our Oblates in Laos were always so happy in the midst of difficulty!

It was a bit of a culture shock arriving back in Kenya… goods not available, shops closed for lunch, slow traffic and people taking forever to do simple jobs.

When I finally got on the “shuttle” to head back to the parish they told me the parish pickup was broken down… bloody starter motor again. So I had to take a “taxi” from the main road up to the parish [1,500/= (13km), while the shuttle only cost 600/= (220km)].

It was nice to arrive in my bedroom and even better that David had made up the bed… the joy of community life. The first week I started going to bed at 9 or 9:30pm to build up my strength and it was like being on holidays again… 9 or 10hours sleep!

After two weeks I have managed to prepare and give a talk a the catholic students seminar last Saturday, get the account books up to date, get up to speed with the parish activities and farewell our Scholastic, David, from Canada (that was a sad day) – thanks David for all you have been and have done in the last 12 months. We also sent our Parish Priest off for his home leave holidays (DR Congo).

Now, you are probably sick of reading this blog, so I will close for now. Tonight I am alone… a rare occurrence. The other two are taking a day off, and even our visiting priest from Zimbabwe is having a day off in Meru (he is on holidays from University in Nairobi).

Before I finish off, I must express a big apology to several people I didn’t get to see… I just ran out of time. OK, Take care and God Bless till next time. Gerard.

Rebuilding the Parish Youth… with a little help from Mama Maria!

Sorry for the long silence… we have been buried under the tea leaves!  On Sunday 25th I had a meeting with Youth Leaders and thought I would share their struggles, challenges and enthusiasm.  I should be finishing off another report, but I’ve been making excuses for long enough!

When the parish began, possibly due to the high cost of education, and less access to funding, there was a definite class of young people called “youth” who had finished secondary college (HELB – Higher Edu. Loans Board – is a new scheme).  The youth group was assisted greatly by numbers, energy and their creativity.  Over the last couple of years, the demographics have changed… more youth are heading off to higher education, leaving fewer numbers for the youth group.  In addition, “distractions” and access to small amounts of money is becoming easier for the young people, and they are developing long lists of desirable things to buy!  So, it is becoming more difficult to get youth to build community.  The leaders tell me, “Father, when we mention money, they all run away!”

A growing proportion of the youth are secondary students (officially part of the Y.C.S. – Young Christian Students).  For some Prayer Houses it is 95%.  And, as we all know, they never have any money!!  So, the last year saw a decline in youth activities and enthusiasm.  The 2010 year also had some “problems” with money at the executive level. 

Each Prayer House is supposed to have male and female Patrons to assist the youth executive at the local level.  After instituting the idea last year, following my observation of struggling youth leaders, I was told “we already have them.”  Oh, I thought, no-body told me, and many people said it was “a good idea!”  Perhaps people were afraid to say something because they had obviously fallen asleep!  Maybe they though the ugly white man would wake them up.

In February, this year, the newly appointed Patron for Igandene asked me:  “Father, what am I supposed to do?  Can we have a meeting to explain our role?”  I politely responded, “that’s a very good question!  Why don’t you talk to the senior Catechist.  And, YES, we can have a meeting… please remind next week if I forget!!”  When we requested each Prayer House to appoint Patrons to support the Youth, I just assumed they would know what to do.  When one has many hats and distractions, it is hard to dot all the “i” and cross all the T’s (excuses, excuses!).

After one reminder, it was arranged and we met… 9 out of 11 Youth Chairpersons came, while only four Prayer Houses were represented by Patrons!!  Yes, “Houston, we have a problem!” 

After a two hour meeting where myself (Chaplain) and the Patrons listened to what the youth wanted from us and the parish, we were able to identify a number of areas in which we could move forward.  One key benefit was that the youth leaders felt appreciated and could see light in their tunnel of disappointment and disillusionment.


One of the youth leaders suggested building up a regular prayer time for the rosary… and they requested a pamphlet on, “How to Pray the Rosary.”  Wow!  I didn’t expect that.  We valued added to that idea by suggesting that the youth groups choose a different Small Christian Community each week with whom to pray with.  This not only builds community, but also improves the youth profile in the Prayer Houses (yes, some committees are not always youth friendly!).  The youth feel a bit lost in the system, and the oldies are not keen on hand-outs!

So, here they are, receiving their new “How to Pray the Rosary” brochure and a new pair of Rosary beads, which I said are for the Youth Leader, not for the person (if you get me… they leave it for the next Leader when they leave office).


Kionyo Parish Youth Chairpersons & some Youth Patrons

The Rosary beads are courtesy of the M.A.M.I. office in Canada.  THANK YOU, they are much appreciated by the Youth here in Kionyo!  They have “Oblates” stamped on the back of the crucifix.

The “How to Pray…” cards are courtesy of my home parish in ALBANY, Western Australia, which my sister Maria brought over when she visited in July 2011 (along with two large jars of vegemite!).  Thanks a lot, they are much appreciated.

Youth with Rosary beads and How to Pray card… Parish Youth Chairlady is at the back.

OK, say a prayer for our youth as they try to develop income producing projects and develop programs that are attractive and enjoyable for the young people.  Till next time, try to be young at heart, with short pockets and long arms to help others!

God Bless from Central Station on a “quiet” Sunday night,

A Reflection for Lent… The King of Kings

A scene from “The King of Kings,” directed by Cecil B. DeMille, 1927


[This story is a précis of an article written by John A Murray which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Friday 22 April 2011.]

In 1927 the Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille made a silent movie about the life of Christ called “The King of Kings”. It is estimated that more than 800 million have seen it. DeMille himself told this story about the influence of the movie. A Polish man named William Wallner saw “The King of Kings” in 1928. Greatly moved, he decided to devote his life to Christian ministry.

By 1939 Wallner was leading a Lutheran parish in Prague. Shortly after Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, a doctor in Wallner’s parish was sent to a Nazi concentration camp. Wallner shared with DeMille how the doctor, a Jewish convert to Christianity, encouraged his fellow prisoners “to die bravely, with faith in their hearts.” As a result, the doctor became a target of Gestapo officers.

The doctor was struck repeatedly with an iron rod until one of his arms had to be amputated. But he would not be quieted. Finally, as DeMille’s autobiography recounts, “one Gestapo officer beat the doctor’s head against a stone wall until blood was streaming down his face.” Holding a mirror before the doctor, the Gestapo officer sneered: “Take a look at yourself. Now you look like your Jewish Christ.”

Lifting his remaining hand up, the doctor exclaimed, “Lord Jesus, never in my life have I received such honour—to resemble You.” Those would be his last words on Earth.

Distraught at what he had done and the response of the doctor, the Gestapo officer sought out Wallner that night. “Pastor Wallner would you help me? Can you free me from this terrible guilt?”

After praying with him, Wallner advised, “Perhaps God let you kill that good man to bring you to the foot of the Cross, where you can help others.” The Gestapo officer returned to the concentration camp and, through the aid of Wallner and the Czech underground, he worked to free many Jews over the years that followed.

On July 30, 1957, Wallner met with DeMille and spoke about the impact “The King of Kings” had on his life and all who came in contact with him. Wallner ended his account to DeMille by declaring: “If it were not for ‘The King of Kings,’ I would not be a Lutheran pastor, and 350 Jewish children would have died in the ditches.”

Wishing you a reflective Holy Week.  Gerard

A Strange Start to Lent…

I must confess to having a strange start to Lent this year.  But I think I am heading in the right direction.  I was going to give up drinks and snacks… not much else to give up here!  But the first weekend we had a visitor and I felt hospitality outweighed a simple fast, and then again on Sunday night we had a community night at Meru… so, I felt I should be sociable.

So far I have watched more movies in Lent than since New Year… we have a mini projector which only works at night time, so Bro David (Scholastic from Canada) and I watched the following movies – please don;t take these as a recommendation of suitability for general audiences.  (Deacon Gideon and Seminarian Patrick came for bits, and Fr Alfred also joined us for the last one, which we watched on the big screen projector – a real treat.) 

Maybe not the ideal start to a season of penance, but I did pick up some thoughts to reflect on life.  And we are supposed to be creative!

1) Body of Lies – there is no honour in justifying dirty actions for a “good cause”.  Knowledge is dangerous.  Lying destroys friendships and support networks.  He who lives by the sword, will die by the sword.  People can change from bad to good – that takes courage.  But how easy it is to be seduced to change from good to bad.

2) The Book of Eli – how quick some people are (me? you?) to blame God for bad things that happen.  The power of the Good News (Bible) to change lives. The courage of persevering in a God given task gives us amazing strength. Isolation destroys lives.  Knowledge brings freedom, hope and opportunity to build a better world (and a lack of knowledge leads us into slavery to the one who is strongest).  Let’s appreciate the basics.  We (in the developed world) have too much of what we don;t really need, and this leads us away from what is most valuable… relationships and gratitude.

3) The Lincoln Lawyer – being a Lawyer is a dirty job sometimes.  A mother will do almost anything to “help” their children.  Flattery can lead us into dangerous places… best to be humble and quiet.  If you do dangerous work, or work with criminals, put a decent security system on your house!  Don;t believe everything people say.  Sometimes the “tough” people in the world turn out to be our best friends.  Being generous with your workers (eg. chauffer), pays off with loyalty and people walking the extra mile for us.

Although my spiritual reading is replaced by movies this last week, it slowed me down and gave some good community time with my brothers.  So, that is not a bad start to the season. 

Otherwise life continues apace, building a water tower, checking solar hot water systems, facilitating a church design process, and getting the Oblate motorbike over a cough… I feel a bit foolish with the last problem, as a farm boy I should be doing better maintenance and troubleshooting.  Anyway, it turns out the air-filter was completely clogged with greasy dirt.  I was worried I would have to take it Nairobi again for warranty repair.  Now it is purring like a cat.

Hope you have a good week ahead and are fasting hard during Lent (I’m trying to fast from hard work!).

God Bless, Gerard

Climbing the Mountain of God – Part 6…

On the last day we were up at 6:30am after a long night on the hard ground. Then it was breakfast and Mass. One of the guides told us: Father, a quick Mass… 30 minutes maximum. I said nothing. Mass took at least an hour and a quarter as people wanted to say thank you and a few goodbyes. It was all very nice and we were all starting to wonder how we would continue life without the group. There was a strong feeling of companionship and accomplishment. Finally, we all agreed: “The Mission was not accomplished, it was just beginning.” Now we were charged with the duty to be the sign of the cross in our communities… forgiving, loving and blessing others.

OLD MOSES camp, the last day: the Three Amigos (Fr Gerard, Fr Nicholas and Fr Zachary)
with all the group.. about 25 in total.

The Three Amigos (Fr Gerard, Fr Nicholas and Fr Zachary)

The Three Amigos (Fr Gerard, Fr Nicholas and Fr Zachary)
with Kionyo Parishioners: Pamela, Eunice & Aileen.

Old Moses: Breaking Camp for the last time (peak of Mt Kenya in the background).

Throughout the 6 days (Sunday to Friday) we had variously prayed for ourselves, the people who committed the 2008 post-election violence, the leaders who organised it (whoever they were), and especially for the victims who died, and the victims still suffering internal displacement.

I pray that this journey made in faith, where the Prayer Group Members really showed courage, physical sacrifice and perseverance, may be a good sign for others in Kenya to refrain from violence at the next election in this year of 2012, and forever.

One of the guides told me that he thought the people of Kenya had learnt a valuable lesson in 2008: the leaders who caused the violence had little sympathy for the suffering it caused and did little to assist people once their objectives had been met. He said, the people will not be so foolish to believe them again. He also said that many of those who committed violence had been given alcohol and drugs so that they would have no problems with their consciences.

Thank you to all the Nation Prayer Campaign team members for showing me your faith and courage, and helping to inspire, in myself, a deeper faith and commitment to the people of God in Kionyo and Kenya.

Sirimon’s Gate (2,650m ASL): Friday 10th February, 2012.
Some of the Guides, Porters and National Prayer Campaign Group at the end of our last 9km walk.

Climbing the Mountain of God… part 4 (B)

The Blog would not work with these pictures in the last post so I include them here.

  9am at Shipton’s: Note the ice crystals in the stream.

9am Shipton’s: Looking back toward the main Shipton camp and the valley where we came from the day before.

9am at Shipton’s: it is a really beautiful view… so close you can “touch it”.

Climbing the Mountain of God – Part 5…

After the team descended at 9:30am – 10:30am (some faster than others), they had breakfast and hot “chai” (cooked milky tea).

The Team (with guides) who went up at 3:30am Thursday morning.
Mt Kenya is on the right and is only partly seen.

We then agreed to have Mass with the whole group… people were saying they needed the strength of Mass to walk back home. So at 11am we celebrated Mass in the shadows of Mt Kenya.

Fr Gerard Conlan OMI preaching in the shadows of Mt Kenya.

The Pilgrims celebrating Mass facing Mt Kenya with Mt Shipton in the background.

Fr Zachary CECC leads special prayers of Thanksgiving for the Porters and Guides.

Fr Zachary CECC and Fr Gerard Conlan OMI

Elevating the Chalice wearing my World Youth Day Stoll: “OMI - Witness to the World”.

After Mass we quickly packed up and headed off back to Old Moses. I was feeling sorry for the team who ascended the mountain, so I carried an extra bag. My shoulders were a little sore after the halfway mark, but after readjusting, it became comfortably numb!

I had not taken many photos on the way up in case the battery went flat! So on the way back I took some scenery shots… which probably don’t do justice to the real world.

The long journey home… the team who also went up the last ascent
were especially tired, but never gave up!
Lucas in the stripy shirt with staff and Christine in front.

About 4km from Mt Kenya: Ben (Kionyo Parish pilgrim and guide)
Christine and Fr Zachary CECC.

Mt Kenya behind us, before the halfway point:
looking westerly direction down the valley and an escarpment
(there is a small stream in the valley).

Looking back at Mt Kenya after 7km…
at the halfway point, from the top of another mountain ridge.

When we arrived back at Old Moses we were warmly greeted by the two Mama’s and Fr Nicholas. It was well received and lifted our tired spirits and muscles. They wanted another Mass, but we said enough! Three in one day would be too much. So we headed off to bed at 7:30pm because of our tired muscles. It was another musical night, but no-one minded… we were so happy to have returned without accident, without injury and having accomplished the mission.

More to come…

Climbing the Mountain of God – Part 4…

Robert (centre) always made me a black coffee when I turned up morning and evening.
People here like milky tea cooked up together in a pot.

The head guide was concerned about the strength and speed of many of the group. He asked who would to the final ascent at 3am in the morning? Eleven people said YES. Of those, only 7 or 8 made it up the top. Two went halfway and returned, while Fr Zachary celebrated Mass at Shipton’s main camp and also went back to bed. He was told the temperature up top would only allow him 10min for Mass.

Before sleeping at 8:30pm, we all gathered for a prayer, and we were shown the plaque that was to be cemented into place with the steel cross “up top”.

The plaque placed at the top of Mt Kenya (actually, Lenana, just to the south).
Unfortunately they didn’t ask for spelling, so I am Gerald without the OMI

I have to take my hat off to the men and women who made the final ascent… they had to carry cement, plaque and steel cross. Our parishioner, Ben, was a bit of a legend because he made two trips at the top section, because others were exhausted! There is a small lake up top (don’t ask me why it isn’t frozen), where they fetched water for the concrete. Unfortunately no-one took a camera, but someone took a video. So hopefully I can get a copy of that sometime.

When they returned back down at 9:30am, the team were exhausted but happy. They said it was so cold they had trouble talking, and the gloves were stiff with ice and snow. So, I think I made the right decision not to go because I foolishly didn’t pack good gloves or proper wind-break pants. Well, I can always go back and finish the climb another day.

When those of us who stayed in bed, got up at 7:30am, I was feeling pretty good… maybe 98%. So, after breakfast, I ventured up higher to see what I could see and also to meet the returning team. They were much later than my walk, so I came back. Which was lucky because I was on the wrong track! But along the way I took some nice pictures.


More to come…

Climbing the Mountain of God – Part 3…

The next morning we woke and struggled out into the cold breeze as we worked up the strength to climb to the main camp for breakfast. To save coming back I carried my bag and the Mass kit up at the same time. After breakfast it was decided that Fr Nicholas would remain behind due to his slowness. Two older ladies also remained behind. As there was a shortage of tents, Fr Nicholas rented a room at the main camp and the ladies shared a tent.

It came to us that there was something symbolic about the Old Moses camp, Fr Nicholas growing weak and the staff he carried. So, Fr Zachary and myself were appointed like Aaron and Hur (Exodus 17:8-16) to assist him. The staff was handed over to us and then we began the “14km” journey of the day (+900m up!).

Handing over Moses’ staff: the peak of Mt Kenya in the background.

The first hill was a big trial for many of the women in the group and also Fr Zachary. But all made it up and we continued on easier terrain for some time until we had to cross another valley. In the valley we refilled our water bottles and I bathed my feet in the freezing water as we prepared to ascend a steep mill.

Climbing the Mountain… staff in hand.

At the top we were greeted with a magnificent vista standing on the edge of a sharp descent. Mt Kenya was getting much closer. At this time (3.5 hours) we were at the halfway point: S 00 05' 24.1" / E 37 16' 58.7" / 3,860m ASL (a rise of 550m).

Top of the second major mountain… halfway. Mt Kenya in the background.

We rested and waited for the others to catch up. Then a steady descent along the edge of the mountain led us down into the valley where, after another 1 hour… and 4 or 5 kilometres, we stopped for lunch. I was starting to feel a little funny in the stomach… this is a common sign that the altitude and lack of oxygen were having an effect.

Lunch stop: Mt Kenya on the right.

After a 1 hour stop for lunch, we continued walking slowly but steadily, and pausing every so often, to avoid excessive exhaustion and reduce oxygen needs. After 2.5 hours most of us had arrived… They told us it was only 14km, but I think it was at least 16km. Initially it was cool, but when the sun came out it became quite warm.

The Shipton’s Gateway: Not far from the base camp (I’m the little fella in the middle).

A young German tourist was looked quite the worse for wear and ended up with altitude sickness. But he was walking quite quickly and carrying 25kg backpack which required a lot of energy. During the night he was vomiting and couldn’t sleep.

Arrival at last, at Shipton’s, and Mt Kenya magnificent and so close.
Our tents are just behind me (centre left of the photo).

Along the way, somehow, I lost one of my gloves. Fortunately, the group leader, Lucas, was able to lend me two odd gloves that he had spare. Foolishly, I just lay down and put a sweater over my clothes… but by an hour later, when the sun went down, I was in the tent shivering. I then went up to the main camp (another few hundred metres and 20 or 30m up) to try and get warm with some coffee and being near the cookers.

After 30min I realised I needed to strip off my damp sweaty clothes and put dry clothes on. But by this time I was not feeling the best, so one of the porters went down and collected my bag. I then proceeded to put on 2 clean singlets, 1 dirty but dry, singlet, two used t-shirts and a dirty white shirt. I was still a little cold, but much improved. My main jacket was wet inside and I was allowing it to dry in the kitchen.

We had a nice hot supper, but it went cold very quickly, and because I was not feeling 100% I was eating slowly. So, I left the last half. I then swapped jackets with the tour coordinator from our parish, who is also a guide. His jacket was fine leather with a broken zipper. He was happy to have my jacket for going up the top of the mountain. I was happy to have his jacket as he had warmed it up for me, and I was not climbing the last part.

4:30pm Mt Kenya … this is from our tent camp at the base of the peak.

Our location at Shipton’s: S 00 08' 20.2" / E 37 18' 52.9" / 4230m ASL (a rise of 900m above Old Moses).

More to come…

Climbing the Mountain of God – Part 2…

As we walked to the Old Moses camp site, I was amazed at the strength and determination of many members of our group. There were many who were overweight (though they were less overweight when they returned!). And many who were older people not used to such exertion. Some from Mombasa were not used to the high altitudes, but they still persevered. We were fortunate that a lorry was driving up the rough track to Old Moses, so most of our luggage and the steel cross, etc. were all put on the truck.

As we started our walk, we passed the signboard indicating that we were moving from the northern hemisphere into the southern hemisphere.

The Equator.

Along the way we stopped frequently to allow others to catch up. Halfway we found a stream with beautiful clean water from the top of Mt Kenya, and we refilled our water bottles. We also observed workers replacing old power poles with new cement poles.

An easy part of the walk. At times the track is a bit rough.

My brother priest Fr Nicholas was 127kg and I was afraid he would not make it to Old Moses. Along the way, a group of workers were clearing the bushes in preparation for widening and improving the “road”. We asked one of them to prepare a staff for Fr Nicholas to carry and assist him in his walking. He didn’t know that we had requested it, and when he passed by the workers, they presented it to him. He was very touched and blessed the young lady who presented it to him. The young man who made it also wanted a blessing, so he came forward and trimmed the staff a little more to make it smoother, and also received a blessing. So, like Moses of old, Fr Nicholas came on slowly but surely.

The Old Moses campsite. Our tent camp is at the bottom right (in the trees).

Our location at Old Moses: S 00 02' 56.9" / E 37 17' 13.2" / 3,350m ASL (a rise of 700m)

As the younger and fitter people arrived earlier (2pm), we spent the time having a late lunch (macaroni) and reading and resting, as we prepared for the big day to come. Fr Nicholas arrived two hours after everyone else. But he did not have the strength to come another 400m (+30m up) to the Old Moses site for food, so it was taken down to him. Fr Nicholas is a local priest and has a wonderful gentle presence and speaks with wisdom… he is 51 years old.

We prayed as a group and Fr Nicholas told us of the wonderful gift of a staff that he received along the way. Then, except for Fr Nicholas, we went back up to the main camp for supper, where I put on an extra singlet, sweater and double socks.

This night I slept in the tent with the two other priests and a lay man. It was a bit squeezy but the women were 6 to a tent! The ground was a bit hard, so I kept waking up to turn over or rest on my back. It was a bit cold, but generally OK. The biggest distraction was snoring… people thought it was a symphony, but I think that would be an insult to musically minded people!

More to come…


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