Key team about to end probe that could see Cardinal Maurice Otunga declared saint

    Catholic sisters during the walk to mark the end of the beatification of Cardinal Otunga in Nairobi [PHOTO: COURTESY]

NAIROBI, KENYA: As Pope Francis declared two of his predecessors would be canonised to sainthood in April next year, something great was happening locally.

The process for the beatification of former head of the Catholic Church in Kenya, now referred to as the Servant of God, the late Maurice Michael Cardinal Otunga, was undergoing a major milestone.

And now two miracles need to happen for the late Otunga to be declared a saint. The miracles have to be proven to have taken place for those who pray for his intercession.

This has been the tradition in the Catholic Church for anyone to be declared a Saint. The miracles could be through healing of a particular disease beyond the work of medicine.

Nairobi Archbishop John Cardinal Njue last weekend led a solemn function that marked the end of the inquiry by the Archdiocese on the cause of beatification and canonisation of Otunga.

It was disclosed that a tribunal headed by a Dutch national based in Rome and appointed by Cardinal Njue, Dr Waldey Hilgeman, had put together a document consisting of 23,955 pages on the life and times of the late Otunga.

     Interviews by tribunal

The tribunal consists of a team of six other people: Brother Reginald Cruz, the vice postulator, Fr Patrick Njunge (Episcopal delegate), Fr Daniel Ngure (Promoter of Justice) and Fr Calistus Nyagilo (Notary), Srs Esther Wangui Ichugu and Caroline Abonyo, both adjunct Notary of the Tribunal.

In an interview with The Standard on Saturday, Fr Calistus said the tribunal interviewed 171 people countrywide on the life of Otunga.

Those interviewed  range from drivers and cooks to bishops, priests and the old people at the Nyumba ya Wazee, Cardinal Otunga’s last residence before he died in 2003.

“We even interviewed non-Catholics and politicians, and everyone who came into contact with the late cardinal,” added Fr Calistus.

The clergyman noted that the document consists of the historical and theologian investigation, which was sealed at the function presided over by John Cardinal Njue at the Holy Family Basilica.

However, Fr Calistus pointed out that all the members of the tribunal took oath of secrecy, making secret the contents of the document, unless otherwise directed by the Vatican. “The document was later to be handed over to the new Apostolic Nuncio in Kenya, Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo, who will in turn take it to Rome for the Vatican process to commence. It has a forwarding letter to the Vatican that was written and signed by Cardinal Njue during the function for the Vatican process to commence,” added Fr Calistus.

At the Vatican, one of the key departments, known as the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, will seize the matter and sift through the document, a process that could take a year. It will then make its recommendation to Pope Francis. “If there are any questions, clarifications or queries they will get in touch with the Cardinal through the Apostolic Nuncio,” said Fr Calistus.

He says Kenyans should pray for Otunga’s intercession for miracles to take place and then report such occurrences to the church.

“When a miracle happens as result of having prayed for Otunga’s intercession, you are supposed to report to our office. We have three medical doctors on standby, who will verify the same and if they establish the cure is beyond medicine, they will file a report on the same,” added Fr Calistus.

    Position of Vulnerable

With that, Otunga will be elevated to position of Vulnerable, and the Pope will then be left with no option but to announce when he would canonise him a saint. However, Calistus notes that the process is not that easy and could take a long time just as was the case  with the late Pope John Paul XX111 whose case dates back to 1965. Sainthood normally requires two ‘confirmed’ miracles, though Francis has approved the canonisation of John XXIII (1958-1963) — with who he shares a common touch and reformist views — based on just one.

John Paul II, who served as pontiff from 1978 to 2005, was credited with his first miracle just six months after his death, when a French nun said she had been cured, through prayer, of Parkinson’s — a disease the late Pope had also suffered from.

His second miracle was reportedly carried out on a woman in Costa Rica, who said she was healed from a serious brain condition by praying for John Paul’s intercession on the same day he was beatified in 2011.

The Polish pope was popular throughout his 27-year papacy and helped topple communism — although he alienated many with his conservative views and was blamed for hushing up paedophile priest scandals. At his funeral in 2005, crowds of mourners cried “Santo Subito!” — “Sainthood Now!” — prompting the Vatican to speed up the path to sainthood, which normally begins five years after death.

John XXIII made his name by calling the historic Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), which overhauled the church’s rituals and doctrines and reached out to other faiths. Many compare the Italian pope, who died in 1963, with the current pontiff for their similar pastoral attitudes, humble, open manner and sense of humour.

The reportedly miraculous healing of an Italian nun who had severe internal hemorrhages was attributed to John XXIII when he was beatified in 2000.

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Maurice Otunga Sainthood Catholic Church in Kenya