As Catholic faithful prepare for Lent-the religious observation of simple living, fasting and prayers-many will also be silently praying for retired Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki who is struggling with poor health and old age.
Catholics observe the 40-day Lent period which ushers in Easter, the most solemn holiday in the Christian calendar. Archbishop Ndingi would have taken an active role in Lent, but today, the 86 year old is either on the wheelchair or in bed. He suffers memory and speech lapses.
Though weak in body, but strong in faith, the octogenarian routinely has visitors into his home most of them Catholic faithfuls and neighbours. Visiting hours are strictly between 10 am to lunch hour.
Most of the visitations are dedicated to prayers and soothing hymns. Occasionally during such moments, Ndingi is usually jolted into faint motion as he struggles to connect with his guests.
Sometimes a feeble smile flashes across his face. He has lost the ability to talk but can still afford a mumble, intermittently pausing to utter phrases like “thank you”, “I know you” or “I am very happy”.
Sister Teresia takes care of the retired archbishop and those who have visited the house say Sister Teresia’s ensures Ndingi is comfortable. “She cleans and feeds the Archbishop as he can no longer do any task for himself,” said a source.
Apart from Sister Teresia, there are two priests who pray for him in the morning and evening. His successor, His Eminence John Cardinal Njue-who prefers driving himself- occasionally pays Ndingi a visit.
At the height of his active life, Ndingi was a leading voice on matters democracy, constantly pinpointing failures of leadership during the Kanu regime. He never tired from reminding Kenyans the importance of participating in the democratization through elections, lobbying or civil activism.
This year’s Lent will be launched on February 25 and is themed “peace and credible elections, leaders of integrity” – issues that excited the man of God who when he was hale and hearty, loved afternoon swims at his five bed-room Luna Gardens home in Lavington where a Catholic nun takes care of him.
Following claims that a scheme had been hatched to evict Ndingi from the palatial home, The Nairobian made inquiries that did not yield much. The residence is not a free-walk-in place. Guards at the gate have to seek permission from Ndingi’s handlers first.
“He has been here since he retired from the church. This house belongs to him,” said a worker at the well-manicured Luna Gardens.
Even after gaining access, there is no guarantee of meeting Ndingi. Sometimes he declines seeing visitors and instead spends most of the time resting in bed.
The Nairobian sought permission to speak to Sister Teresia from the church’s top hierarchy.
David Omwoyo, national executive secretary, Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) declined the request. “No, I cannot give you a go ahead that is a long story,” said Omwoyo.
Ndingi fell sick after retiring. He started experiencing gradually memory loss before the problem escalated to the current state.
Those who have visited him say he is a strong-willed character despite his failing health, which sometimes require check-ups at a Catholic run hospital in Nairobi.
“If he were strong enough I am sure he could be actively involved in church matters,” said a Catholic follower.