On top of Subukia Hills about 40km from Nakuru town lies the Subukia National Shrine, famously known by the Catholic faithful as the Village of Mary Mother of God.
Touted as the biggest shrine in the country, it lies on 200-acre land and was named the Village of Mary Mother of God in 1984 by Maurice Cardinal Otunga after its opening.
The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops built the place of worship, following Pope John Paul II’s directive that they come up with a national prayer site.
SEE ALSO: Kitui Catholic Diocese gets bishop after three years
Subukia suited the intentions of the bishops to bring all the faithful within and outside Kenya together, because geographically it is at the centre of Kenya and also a meeting point of two hemispheres, as the equator runs through it.
The shrine belongs to the Kenya Episcopal Conference and is under the care of Conventional Franciscan Friars. It is a place for prayers, pilgrimage, peace, reconciliation and rest.
The pilgrims, Christians and non-Christians, visit the shrine for spiritual guidance and counselling, confession or to offer special prayers.
A visit to the village is an adventure and a pilgrimage. The shrine, which sits amidst trees, cuts into the side of a densely-wooded hill, about 10km from Nakuru-Nyahururu road.
The first sign that welcomes you to the shrine is a white cross, which rises skywards out of the woods and can be seen as you approach from Nakuru.
SEE ALSO: Dilemma in re-opening places of worship
At the foot of the hill lies a Marian Chapel that was blessed on December 11, 2010 by the Rev Lawrence Mbogo, former Vicar General of Catholic Diocese of Nakuru.
According to Fr Erick Ondieki, the Rector of the Village of Mary Mother of God, the shrine is visited by thousands, both religious and non-religious, each year.
“There are developments in the shrine, including a bookshop that sells spiritual books with Catholic history,” says Fr Ondieki.
He says the grotto (a small picturesque cave with a Marian Statue) is a sanctuary for prayer and reflection where pilgrims can freely come to meditate and offer prayers.
SEE ALSO: Group rejects order to share 5,186-acre land
He says the faithful can also rest and catch their breath as they prepare for a 10km walk that ends with a holy sacrifice of the mass.
The ‘way of the cross’ journey is for meditation in remembrance of the suffering of Jesus Christ. It begins at the Way of Light monumental structure and proceeds to the White Cross a few metres from where a new church with a capacity of 5,000 is under construction.
“The Catholics and other faithful walk in the 14 stations representing the stages of Jesus’ suffering before his death on the cross,” says Ondieki.
The journey, that begins with the sign of the cross, comprises reflections, prayers and recitations of the holy rosary, confessions and meditations.
“Pilgrims share in Christ’s suffering. They stop at every station, make prayers and kneel out of respect and devotion to Christ,” says the priest.
At the top of the hill lies another chapel with a statue of Holy Mary holding baby Jesus. The chapel is where the faithful hold the mass after concluding the Way of the Cross.
The most interesting thing on the mountain is the spring water baptised ‘special water’ that never dries.
The spring was discovered in 1991 and its waters are believed to have healing powers.
History has it that Henry Muthuku, a supervisor of the shrine, came across a wet patch on the ground that had a small spring of water while clearing the bush where the shrine was to be erected, on the eve of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in December 1991.
Ondieki says some pilgrims come with jerrycans to fetch water, others drink the water and wash their hands and feet.
“Those with skin problems believe the water has healing powers,” says Ondieki.
Because of the many people who visit the place, the Catholics have special arrangements in their calendar that enable men, women, children and the youth to visit at different times.