High-profile bishop Kairu retires at 75

Nyeri Archbishop Peter Joseph Kairu during a past interview. file photo | nmg
Nyeri Archbishop Peter Joseph Kairu during a past interview. file photo | nmg 

Archbishop Peter Joseph Kairu will hold his final mass tomorrow after 33 years of service, his last posting having been Nyeri.

After receiving his successor — Bishop Anthony Muheria — today at Miiri Parish, Kairu will be calling it a day after a service that he terms as “exciting, satisfying but that which had its spots of frustrations”.

Born on May 24, 1941, Kairu calls it a day after attaining the mandatory retirement age of 75. He has been a high-profile Catholic prelate having brushed shoulders with retired President Mwai Kibaki and President Uhuru Kenyatta. “They are both my friends,” he says.

“I feel that I have achieved most of my aspirations as a spiritual leader in the Catholic faith. It is time to pass on the mantle and retreat to the shadows. At 75, the journey has been long.”

Easy to trust, approachable and a sharp-minded personality, Kairu says: “If you come to me in peace I will receive you in peace and all what you ask of me if within my reach or domain I will be eager to help.”

He says his journey towards being an archbishop started early in life at St Peter’s Boys’ Primary School in Elburgon in Nakuru.

The cleric says he admired the way Catholic priests at his local church dressed and recited Biblical verses. “Again, my humble beginnings invited me to the priesthood. You see, when you are the first born in a family of 10, and your father is a simple village carpenter while the mother is a peasant, you will find yourself relying more on God’s grace for providence,” says Kairu.

The only hurdle to Kairu’s yearning for priesthood was his parents’ opposition “because they envisioned for me a path with openings capable of transforming my family’s quality of life”.

His father, Daniel Muraya, showed the most spirited opposition to Kairu’s cause. His mother, Teresia Muringe, also supported his father’s stand. Muraya vowed he would not pay Kairu’s school fees if he joined the seminary.

“Today, I know the opposition to my desire of becoming a Catholic priest was based on the serious traditional belief that a man should found a family to sustain the family lineage,” he explains.

Father William Cunningham, who was the Molo Parish priest in 1960 offered to pay Kairu’s admission fees to Matunda Minor Seminary where he enrolled for a four-year course.
Even as he retires, Kairu remains a strong opponent of same-sex marriage, homosexuality and lesbianism which he says are “simply Satanic”.

“The globe must take a stand that matrimonial union as guided by God is supposed to be that of members of the opposite sex,” he says.

In 1965, he joined the Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Lang’ata, Nairobi.

“On November 8, 1970, I was eventually ordained a priest. I knew that my heart’s religious desire had taken a definite shape. I looked forward to ministering to God’s children. I foresaw a life of instilling hope to the desperate, consoling the paining, interceding for the hopeless and consolidating the love and peace in the society,” he says.

He says his parents and other close relatives “adopted a wait and see attitude” after he became a priest against their wish.

As if the inspiration to his becoming a Catholic priest was devised in a way to test him right in his village, his first posting was in his backyard — Molo Parish.

“I dedicated all my passions in praying for my village, made peace with my parents and relatives who were initially opposed to my priesthood and by the time I was leaving for Murang’a in 1983, my village was highly appreciative of my spiritual leanings,” he says.

Kairu served in Murang’a up to 1997 when he was transferred back to Nakuru.

“Murang’a will remember me for the way we together built the diocese from scratch. It was a classic case of how people united to pursue a common purpose can achieve the unimaginable. We established diocese infrastructure, equipped our churches and consolidated the Catholic doctrines. That was one time I felt so proud to be a team leader in a flock of determined parishioners,” he says.

It is in Nakuru, he says, where his heart was pained the most in his career.

“Tribal clashes were the saddest moments in my life so far. In 1992 I witnessed the clashes since I was in Molo Parish. I went back from Murang’a and witnessed the 1997 clashes. Eventually the worst experience of my life in the 2007 post-election violence,” he says adding that children and the elderly suffered the most in the mayhem.

“I would feel hopeless that these were a God’s people in dire need of help — help that was not forthcoming and in my individual capacity could do nothing. I could not minister to them...and I had no powers to execute a command for the madness to stop. I still insist that never again should people degenerate to wild animals with no thought for the love and peace.”

Former Rift Valley PC Joseph Kaguthi says: “Not once, twice or thrice did Kairu call me with a very sorrowful voice asking me what we were doing as leaders to stop the nonsense. He was saying that a deliberate machination to inflict human suffering was not acceptable. He at once threatened to curse our leaders if they were not going to stop at once the violence.”

In 2008, he succeeded the Nyeri Archbishop Nicodemus Kirima, who died at a Nairobi hospital on November 27, 2007 at 71.

“It has been a long journey but now it is my time to take a rest although I will continue to serve God,” he says. “My parishioners have exhibited great love for me. They have built for me a retirement house in Kamakwa. I will not be going back home in Nakuru since I have been adopted by my parishioners.”