“The first time we celebrated Mass – with 10 people – I thought, wow, you don’t realise what you miss until it is taken away from you,” the Brighton parish priest said.
“You appreciate much more their relationship with you. We could celebrate, we could sing, we could pray together and it’s like a ‘new heaven, a new earth’.
“It was very important for them too. Everyone wanted to stay and talk to each other.”
Not that the Kenyan-born priest let the pandemic curtail his love of being with his flock entirely, and wherever possible he called and visited parishioners in their homes.
“Sitting with somebody and just listening and connecting at that level to me it’s very important. That relationship is fulfilling and very important,” Fr Michael said.
‘Being with people’ has been a hallmark throughout his life, from growing up in a large extended family through to his priesthood ministry that has taken him far away from his hometown in the Ngong diocese on the outskirts of Nairobi to Adelaide.
However, some of the greatest lessons he learned about the importance of connecting with people were during his eight years of formation in the seminary.
He would spend six months at a time in the seminary and then be sent home for three months holiday – two weeks with his family and the rest doing pastoral work in different parishes. It was always with a host family in a parish and he was expected to “live with the people, like a young man who is part of that family”.
“I learned the need to be open and just to live like they live, just connect. In the seminary path I would say the biggest formation was engagement with the people and hearing their stories, their struggles, their fears,” he said.
Grateful for the experiences he received, Fr Michael added he would always be indebted to his local parish for their support during his time in the seminary.
“Growing up I had a lot of family support, there were grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins all around the same age.
“Faith was part of the family so it was natural to wake up on Sunday and go to Mass. It was natural before going to sleep to say a prayer.
“We also had small Christian communities – groups of about 10 families in the neighbourhood – who met on a particular day to pray and read the Gospel together, and then they would assign themselves activities, like visiting the sick.
“My small community helped me a lot. They took it upon themselves to support me socially, psychologically, spiritually and even materially – they would contribute money so I could buy books, clothes.
“On a bigger scale there was always the support from the parish.”
In a homily at St Joseph’s on June 28 Fr Michael spoke of the support he received in Kenya and now, 23 years after his ordination, how parishes in Adelaide had welcomed him into the fold.
“I like to be around people so it was difficult when the churches closed,” he explained.
“The sacrament of priesthood…is a social and mission sacrament, if you take away the community you are missing a big part of it.”
Arriving in 2011 to minister in the Adelaide Archdiocese,
Fr Michael served at the Cathedral and Blackwood parishes, before moving to Brighton in 2018. He is also chaplain for the African Catholic Community.
He was the first Kenyan priest to be welcomed by the Archdiocese – first in 2007 to study and then later to serve in the parishes – and over the years has been joined by five of his countrymen. They are Fr Charles Lukati (Croydon Park), Fr Michael Odiwa (Hectorville), Fr John Mbaraka and Fr Paul Mwaura Gicheha (Yorke Peninsula) and Fr Dominick Okwadha (Mt Gambier).
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