Historic moment as Rev Anyolo arrives in Kisumu to take up new role

An interview with Reverend Philip Anyolo President Kenya Conference Catholic Bishops on Pope Francis visit in Kenya. [David Gichuru/Standard]
Catholic Archbishop Philip Arnold Subira Anyolo will tomorrow embark on a journey that will mark his place in history.

The 62-year-old cleric will drive from his current seat in Homa Bay town to Kisumu, where he will be installed.

He will take over from Archbishop Zacchaeus Okoth, who has retired after nearly 50 years in the pulpit.

The ceremony will take place at the Uzima University College grounds.

The Catholic Church top leadership, the Pope’s representative in Kenya, bishops and lay leaders are already in Kisumu for the ceremony.

Choirs that have been invited to entertain guests were practising enthusiastically yesterday as one of the church’s biggest ceremonies in the recent past approached.

Archbishop Anyolo’s work in the church started when he was ordained in 1983.

He told The Standard that his appointment by Pope Francis took him by surprise.

Memory lane

“On November 4, I started my usual routine of morning prayers. Hardly did I expect the news that I would be elected by the Holy See to take power at the expansive Kisumu archdiocese,” Anyolo said.

However, the soft-spoken cleric stated that he was ready for the task.

While packing his bags yesterday, Archbishop Anyolo took us down memory lane.

He said he would never forget three priests who changed his life from a village boy to a priest and now an archbishop.

Theology subjects

In the early 1970s, Anyolo was an ordinary boy in Tongaren village, Bungoma County.

But things changed when he met two priests from Ireland and one from Kenya. All of them served at the Tongaren Parish.

The Irish priests were Father Noel McHenry and Father Tom Smith, now deceased, while the Kenyan was Father Philip Sulumeti.

Anyolo acknowledges that had it not been for the efforts of these priests, he would not have become an archbishop.

Father Smith made him an altar boy. While serving under the priest, he was tutored diligently on spiritual matters.

Anyolo served as an altar boy until he completed his primary education.

Smith send him to Mother of Apostles Minor Seminary in Eldoret to pursued secondary education.

His education was a bit different from what was taught in secular classrooms, with the subjects being deeply rooted in theology.

It was during Anyolo’s sojourn in Eldoret that Fr McHenry became his mentor both academically and spiritually.

He said he thought of McHenry as the man who taught him how to discover God.

“Fr McHenry taught me the ways of God. After discovering God, I found my journey to priesthood very smooth,” Anyolo said.

During that time, most of the priests in the western Kenya region were white. African priests were rare.

But one day Anyolo met a young African priest at the Tongaren Parish - Fr Sulumeti.

He said it was Sulumeti who gave him the appetite to work hard and become a priest.

Sulumeti told him that it did not matter where someone came from; the only thing that mattered was the determination to serve God.

“Fr Sulumeti impressed me when I realised that he interacted freely with his European colleagues,” said Anyolo.

“This made me learn that serving God neither depended on someone’s race, nor his ethnic background. It was something from the heart.”

After completing Form Four at the minor seminary, Anyolo joined St Augustine Major Seminary Mabanga in Bungoma County.

There, he met the man he is replacing today - Archbishop Zacchaeus Okoth, who was his lecturer.

Replacing tutor

“Bishop Okoth taught me a unit called ‘Doctrine of the Church’. I can also remember Cardinal John Njue as my lecturer. He taught me philosophy,” said Anyolo.

Anyolo was ordained after graduating from the major seminary.

Fr Smith died last year, Fr McHenry is a missionary in Zimbabwe, and Fr Sulumeti retired as a bishop of Kakamega Diocese.

Anyolo said he was also grateful to his mother, Dinah Anyolo, and his father Paul Anyolo, now deceased.

“My family played a crucial role by introducing me to the Catholic Church. A family is the smallest unit of the church and I thank them for nurturing me,” he added.

Yesterday, Steve Ouma, an assistant priest at St Theresa Cathedral, said the preparations to instal the archbishop were at their peak.

“We are very excited and happy to receive the archbishop-elect tomorrow,” said Fr Ouma.

Anyolo acknowledged that the new post would have challenges.

“When I received the news, I prayed. Later I accepted and sent my response to the Holy See,” he said.

The archbishop said he felt heartbroken by the inequality between the rich and poor.

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Archbishop Philip Arnold AnyoloKisumuArchbishop Zacchaeus OkothCatholic Church