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Otunga’s journey to sainthood begins

By | September 5th 2009 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

By Waithaka Waihenya and Lawrence Njoroge

This year marks the sixth anniversary of the passing on of Maurice Cardinal Otunga, Kenya’s premier prince of the Church and Emeritus Archbishop of Nairobi. Two years after his death, his remains were re-buried at the Resurrection Garden in Karen, something that caused quite a controversy. Some faithful in the see of Nairobi and sections of Kenyan society questioned the appropriateness of the prelate’s second burial, arguing that it was disrespectful and counter African burial traditions.

Maurice Cardinal Otunga conducts Mass. [PHOTO:FILE/STANDARD]

Defending the re-burial, Archbishop Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki, then Archbishop of Nairobi, argued that the Resurrection Garden provided ample and serene grounds for the thousands of faithful who wished to pray at the late cardinal’s place of rest.

To date nearly 80,000 visitors to Otunga’s tomb at the Resurrection Garden have signed their names in the memorial books there. Many have left messages and made comments on what they thought of Otunga. On average 20,000 visitors sign in the books every year. Other admirers of the prelate visit and pray without signing the memorial books at the tomb.

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Some of the comments are quite revealing. While many visitors seek the late prelate’s intercession in difficult matters, others thank God for the cardinal’s goodness and express hope that he be declared a saint soon.

Since his death on September 6, 2003, there have been growing expectations that the process of the road to sainthood will be set in motion. Immediately he passed on, some Catholics requested that the process be fast tracked.

According to 1983 document called Divinus Perfectionis Magister (Divine Teacher and Model of Perfection) issued by the late Pope John Paul II, the process whereby the Church declares a person a saint does not begin until five years after that person’s death. Departure from this norm is extremely rare. Even in instances of persons who had been widely regarded as living saints like Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Kolkata), the Church strictly adheres to the norms and procedures of the process.

According to John Paul II’s document, a key player in the process is an official called a postulator. No process can begin without it being driven by this mover. The bishop of the diocese or jurisdiction that proposes a candidate for sainthood appoints the postulator. It is the responsibility of this official to collect and collate relevant evidence of the life and times of the candidate. The evidence, documentary and oral, including alleged miracles, is gathered in a biography and presented to the appointing bishop.

Obviously, the postulator, lay or ordained, must be a person who knows the process well and is able to liaise with the relevant department in Rome, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. A close reading of the process as set out in the Divinus Perfectionis Magister makes it clear that the postulator drives the process on behalf of the local bishop, who proposes a candidate for sainthood.

Once the postulator has gathered the testimony, he presents it to the local bishop who authorises that the evidence be constituted into The Acts of The Cause. This is the principal document presented to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

Some proponents of the candidate’s sanctity must appear before this congregation where they contend with the famous or infamous devil’s advocate. It is the unenviable duty of the Devil’s Advocate to put the case against the alleged holiness of the candidate for sainthood. There have been instances in the church’s history when the devil’s advocate put a spoke in the wheels and delayed or even caused stoppage of the cause by proving that the candidate’s sanctity was merely apparent and not real.

Once the cause is successful, the candidate is first beatified, that is, declared "happy" because she or he demonstrated a heroic level of love. Usually, one uncontested miracle performed though prayers to the holy person is required for beatification.

Finally, the beatified person is canonised. This literally means that in an elaborate Holy Mass in Rome, the Pope includes the name of the person in the official list or canon of saints as worthy of veneration by the universal church.

Today’s sixth anniversary is a key milestone because John Cardinal Njue, Archbishop of Nairobi, will officially announce the name of the postulator for Maurice Cardinal Otunga’s cause for sainthood. This eagerly awaited announcement will be made during the 11.30 am Mass at the Holy Family Basilica.

It is very likely that the newly appointed postulator will be kept quite busy by the many people who are keen to offer evidence petitioning that Otunga be included in the official list of God’s holy men and women.

Waithaka Waihenya is the co-author of "A Voice Unstilled, Archbishop Ndingi Mwana a’ Nzeki" and Prof (Fr) Lawrence Njoroge, Catholic Chaplain at JKUAT, chairs the Maurice Cardinal Otunga Memorial Committee

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