Father Katana: The priest who rocked Popes with his Kayamba

Bishop Henry Katana who heads Saint Barnabas Catholic Church Kaloleni Parish has played Kayamba for Pope John Paul and Pope Francis. [Standard]

Catholic priest Henry Katana’s love for playing Kayamba is unmatched and his passion has accorded him the opportunity to play the hymns.

The priest has entertained Pope John Paul and Pope Francis during their visits to Kenya.

Dressed in an alb and a stole around his neck with the ends hanging down in front, Katana has continued to play the Kayamba with ease for 46 years. He dances to the tune of the gospel song as the congregation cheers and sings along.

The priest, 71, who heads Saint Barnabas Catholic Church Kaloleni Parish, reminisces how he was called to play the Kayamba when the Popes came to Kenya.

The jovial and humorous priest has been nicknamed Father Kayamba due to his love for the instrument.

“When Pope John Paul and Pope Francis came to Kenya, I was asked to play the Kayamba for them. I used to play with my colleague, former Kaloleni MP Mathias Keah, and we used to go around churches across the country to entertain the congregants. I have been playing the Kayamba since I was ordained,” said Father Katana.

The late Keah, who served as assistant minister for Finance during retired President Daniel Arap Moi's regime, would assist Father Katana to light up the congregants in churches across the Coast region.

Assisted by his team of altar boys, the church comes into life as he takes to the stage and starts to play the long-shaped Kayamba he inherited from his father. He said he picked up the passion from his father, who gifted him the instrument.

According to Father Katana, when the Catholic church introduced the use of instruments as tools of preaching by priests, he went to pick it from his ancestral home in Malindi.

Bishop Henry Katana who heads Saint Barnabas Catholic Church Kaloleni Parish. [Standard]

He has played the instrument in Nairobi and Tanzania, where he pursued his further studies.

“I took the Kayamba from my father, and I decided to use it to preach and entertain the congregation. I used to play in Nairobi and later in Tanzania,” said Father Katana.

Katana is also renowned for his use of humour and stories to preach and capture the attention of the congregants.

His sermons are characterized by laughter throughout the masses as he quotes verses while narrating humorous stories to drive the message home.

Men, women and children fill the church to listen to the priest's tales that capture different teachings in the bible.

In his weekend sermon on riches, pride and greed, the priest told a story of a man (Kiberenge) whose wife’s pride and greed caused them to lose all the wealth they accumulated. They had been blessed by a fish that they asked for assistance.

“I use funny characters to tell humorous stories like the story of a fish and chapati to capture the attention of the congregants. I look at the verse, what it says, and I look for a story that is suitable,” said Katana.

Father Katana said they were taught by the late Archbishop Nicodemus Kirima to use a story when preaching for the congregants to remember the teachings.

“Like Jesus, whenever he preached, he used story examples,” said Father Katana.

Ms Elizabeth Palia, the Chair of Kaloleni Parish, said they hope Father Katana will be at the church until he retires.

She said the church is blessed to have him around because his preaching captures the attention of the congregants.

Palia said Father Katana is simple, humorous and loves everyone equally. “He relates well with people of all ages. Even after the mass is over, people love to stay behind and converse with him. He also visits people's homes,” said Palia.

George Charo Baya, a congregant, said he has unique skills and makes the congregants stay alert. “He makes us laugh all the time. He preaches sermons that are relevant and settles well with the heart.” 


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