As Catholic faithful in the world prepare for the first beatification event to be held in Kenya, preparations are in top gear, although questions abound over general preparedness.
With only four weeks left to the event, construction of roads leading to Mukurwe-ini from Nyeri is still on-going, with most sections remaining untouched, while security and crowd management of the congregations remain a major challenge.
Accommodation for the thousands of pilgrims also remains a headache, although the Nyeri County government is set to meet hotel owners this Friday. The administration has set out various areas where the multitudes are expected to camp and asked residents to bid for home-stay facilities.
Despite an assurance that was issued by suspended Transport and Infrastructure Cabinet Secretary Michael Kamau that the roads would be tarmacked, it is apparent that a contractor on site is doing minimal activity. The contractor is mainly patching potholes on the tattered main gateways into the constituency.
The Standard discovered that the 15km stretch of Gatitu-Mukurweini-Othaya junction is undergoing patching, even after the rainy season set.
“Most sections of the tattered road are yet to be repaired,” said Ann Njagi, a resident of Gakindu.
Also equally tattered is the Mathaithi-Mukurwe-ini-Othaya road which is another gateway to Othaya from Karatina. Two weeks ago, Nyeri Governor Nderitu Gachagua launched a road construction project in Gikondi.
Contracts have already been awarded for 35.9km of earth roads in the area which will be graded, graveled and compacted.
“We have also commissioned road construction work for eight more kilometres in the ward, under the county roads programme. We have already instructed contractors to ensure they hire local youth and women to spread murram to ensure they benefit from the projects,” said Mr Gachagua.
The roads in Gikondi ward are under the county government, while the Gatitu-Mukurwe-ini road is under the national government.
“We do not have any mandate over the Gatitu-Mukurweini road. That is a national government project and we hope they will construct the section before the beautification,” said Gachagua.
Already, the Catholic Church has released a tentative timetable for the three-day event that will be held at Gikondi Catholic Church in Mukurwe-ini, Dedan Kimathi University near Nyeri Town and a final procession from Mathari Mission Complex to Nyeri town.
The procession will involve taking the relics (remains) of the former Consolata Missionaries nun from a church in Mathari to Our Lady of Consolata Catholic Cathedral in Nyeri town.
Sister Irene ‘Nyaatha’ Stefani will on May 22 to May 24 this year be beatified from a Vulnerable to Blessed, according to the Catholic Church faith.
Nyaatha (a woman of mercy) was the name she was given by Gikondi residents due to her acts of mercy. Sister Nyaatha will be the first Catholic to be beatified in Kenya, and Africa in general, following an amendment of a decree by former Pope, John Paul II, which restricted martyrdom, beatification and canonisation events to be held in Rome only.
Nyaatha served at Gikondi Catholic Mission between 1915 and 1930, when she succumbed to a bubonic plague-which she contracted when treating people suffering from the epidemic.
Her beatification comes 100 years after she arrived in the hilly hamlet that is Gikondi village. It will be 85 years after her demise.
Nyaatha passed on in her bed at Gikondi Catholic Parish. On Thursday and Friday last week, volunteer landscapers from Rhino Watch Lodge in Nyeri excavated two pieces of wood, joined with two-six-inch nails and a metallic water gate-valve, which are believed to have been used in building the nun’s house. Gikondi Parish faithful helped the volunteers.
Miriam Kinge, the lodge’s manager said the wood was buried in a heap of soil, about one-metre deep, and it lay at what used to be the nun’s house floor.
“It struck us as a surprise and was exciting that a piece of timber that has been buried under heaps of soil for more than 70 years can still be found intact,” said Ms Kinge.
“We asked the Catholic Church what we can do as part of our corporate social responsibility and they asked us to help in landscaping and tracing the foundation of what used to be her house,” she added.
Father Peter Githinji of the Catholic Archdiocese of Nyeri, who is the coordinator of the three-day beatification said the Church is ready for the event.
Githinji said the Church is expecting over 100,000 pilgrims from around the world. Among those expected is President Uhuru Kenyatta and Catholic Church head, John Cardinal Njue.
“We are already progressing well in our arrangements as a Church and main organisers of the event, and we expect the Government to do its part,” he said.
About 600 choir members and children dancers’ are rehearsing at Bishop Gatimu Ngandu Girls in the neighbouring Mathira constituency to prepare songs and dances for the services.
Central Region Police Commander Larry Kieng said all security arrangements were in place to ensure the ceremonies in the four different venues go on uninterrupted. He said police officers will be on standby at Gikondi, Nyeri Cathedral, Kimathi University and Mathari mission although, he said their projections is that major crowds will be in Nyeri town centre.
He said traffic and mob management plans were also in top gear and everything was expected to go according to plan.
Two weeks ago, a sarcophagus, with the remains of the nun, was installed at Our Lady of Consolata Cathedral in Nyeri. The sarcophagus, which is made of aluminium stands and transparent and bullet proof glass was installed between the graves of former Archbishop Nicodemus Kirima and his predecessor, Bishop Ceaser Maria Gatimu, and in front a sculpture of Mary, Jesus’ mother.
“The event will be presided over by Cardinal Angelo Amato, who is the Prefect of the Congregation Causes of Saints at the Vatican, and we are also expecting other visitors from around the country, Rome and also Mozambique where faithful interceded to Sister Nyaatha to provide them with water,” said Githinji.
He said the beatification was approved by Vatican following a 1989 miracle at a Church in Nipepe in Mozambique.
A miracle attributed to the intercession of Sister Nyaatha is the multiplication of water in the baptismal font of the parish church of Nipepe (Diocese of Lichinga, Niassa, Mozambique), which served catechists from different parishes of the diocese, gathered for a training course together with the parish priest, Father Giuseppe Frizzi IMC.
They had remained segregated in the church of Nipepe, together with other people of the area who took refuge due to the belligerence between Frelimo and Renamo, who sowed destruction and death.
Some 260 people, including children sought refuge in the church in the hottest period of the year, January. Sister Nyaatha’s intercession was invoked and there was enough water for all the refugees in the church for three and a half days, and not just for drinking, but also to cool off from the sweat and also to wash a baby girl named Irene who was born on that occasion.
As the Church readies itself for the event, Chief of Staff at the Nyeri governor’s office Simon Wachira said necessary arrangements are in place and would divulge more details at a press conference Saturday.
“We have set up public camp sites in various areas, among them Wambugu Farm and Kabiruini Show Ground. Kabiruini has been hosting scouts whenever they come for the founderee camp and the Founders Day and it has capacity to hold over 10,000 people,” said Mr Wachira.
He said water, electricity, sanitation and security will be provided in the two camps, as he warned that nobody will be allowed to spend nights along roads for security and hygiene purposes.
The county government has also asked hotel and lodging owner and residents with homes where they can accommodate pilgrims at a fee to register in order to facilitate bookings.
The Government will also inspect the homes before issuing permits.
“We are encouraging pilgrims to also camp in Churches and schools, provided they make prior arrangements and inform the Government so that we can facilitate security and other basic needs,” he said.
The County government has also set up service camps, among them souvenir market, food courts and a media and information centre at Kabiruini, Dedan Kimathi University and also at Gikondi.
“We want a seamless event where we will even be regulating trade. We are also working with the national government to ensure security of the pilgrims,” said Wachira.
The County government indicated that on May 24, all direct roads leading to Nyeri from Nairobi and Murang’a-Othaya will be closed at Ruring’u.
Vehicles entering the town will have to find their way to the town through Marua and Kiganjo to ensure free-flow of pilgrims who will follow the Church service from Dedan Kimathi Kamukunji grounds, where events at Our lady of Consolata Cathedral-will be televised.
“The county government will also provide emergency and first aid services. We will provide a fleet of ambulances to facilitate this,” said Wachira.
A few months ago, journalists invited by hotel owners to cover their strategy meeting ahead of the beatification were ordered out by Anti-Terror Police Unit (ATPU) who claimed the meeting was in-house.
The hotel owners were being trained on ways of identifying potential terrorists who may take advantage of the event to carry out attacks.
By the time of going to Press, the national and county government officials were holed in a meeting convened by County Commissioner Michael ole Tialal. A source at the meeting told The Standard that a committee was formed to help oversee arrangements.
“The committee will be chaired by Tialal, and it will start touring all the venues starting Thursday,” said the source who sought anonymity.