Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practice what you teach, is a philosophy taught to men during their ordination to diaconate, a step preceding priesthood.
The teaching is given by a presiding bishop to guide the young men as they commit to a life of serving others. These statements are important, not just to those being ordained but to the entire Catholic Church. They comprise what the church calls ‘missioning’ or the job description of any faithful servant of God.
But beyond the commitment, the ordained men are supposed to live believing what they read and teaching what they believe. They must also practice what they teach.
And no one exemplified this more than retired Catholic Archbishop Emeritus Ndingi Mwana a'Nzeki, who died yesterday. He committed to these principles even after his retirement.
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Ndingi will be remembered for his fight against injustice, particularly in the 90s. He was in the group of Kenyans who were on the front line in the fight for multi-party democracy in Kenya. These were the days when the church had a strong voice and its opinion on governance and respect for human rights was respected.
Indeed, the Most Rev Ndingi stands out as a cleric who believed what he read, taught what he believed and practised what he taught. A courageous man who did not condone injustice, Ndingi did not fear anyone and treated everyone equally. He would take on government officials for arriving for a church service late, reminding them that the church was not a political rally where they walked in as they wished. This bravery was rare those days when everybody feared the government.
He believed in the Catholic Social Teaching (CST), which constitutes principles and values guiding the church’s actions in the society. One of the core principles that Ndingi believed in was human dignity.
Ndingi’s fight against tribal clashes in Molo in Nakuru Diocese, where he was the bishop from 1971 to 1996, was founded on his belief that every person has a right to a life of dignity, which must be protected by the State. Under his leadership, priests fought for land rights of the poor who were losing their properties during tribal clashes, especially during elections.
Just like his contemporaries, bishops Henry Okullu of ACK and Alexander Muge of AIC, both deceased, Ndingi stood up to the government of the day. He spoke in favour of the administration when it promoted human rights and tore into it when it trampled them.
Daniel Rono, Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) General Secretary, whom Ndingi ordained into priesthood 24 years ago, remembers him as a champion of the rights of the poor. Fr Rono notes that the clashes were mainly political and the poor ended up losing their land.
He remembers how Ndingi mobilised resources to provide food, transport and medical care to thousands of people who had been affected during the clashes.
Ndingi was also referred to as a ‘master teacher’. He spoke with conviction and preached with eloquence. He was humorous but firm and valued good governance. He was widely covered by the media because of his campaigns defending the weak.
Rono says Ndingi was bold when defending the weak. And he paid the price for it, both physically and emotionally.
He was the embodiment of what the Catholic Church calls inculturation; he strongly believed in the call of Vatican II Council for the church to respect local cultures.
It is from this teaching that dancing in the church, for example, was allowed. Before then, the liturgy was strictly conducted the Roman way.
Ndingi had a choice to keep quiet just like many others, but he chose to speak out. He chose a simple life which he said was more fulfilling to him. He tirelessly challenged societies to educate children because to him, that was the best way to overcome poverty.
Ndingi was an inspiration, not just to the Catholic Church, but to the entire country at large. Rest in peace Archbishop Ndingi. You have fought a good fight, finished the race and kept the faith.
Dr Mokua is a lecturer, media and communication studies