Plaintive letter asks help for suffering Kenya
A sad letter came in from Fr. Michael Luke in Kenya, quaintly written in often unfamiliar English, a voice in the wilderness if ever there was one. Luke ministers in Embu, not far from Nairobi. The letter is short on detail but full of pain.
Luke mentions Tharaka, described by the Kenyan Embassy as a village near Embu, though the descriptions in the letter suggest a wider catastrophe. The conflict is primarily tribal. Scarce food and water are the great bones of contention. Cattle rustling is central to it, usually leading to violence.
This unedited letter is a small window on Africa.
Here's a nice insight into the law of unintended consequences -- and an inkling of what a Catholic education really is about.
Two years ago, a Los Angeles priest, Fr. Loren Riebe was summarily kicked out of Chiapas, Mexico, on trumped-up charges after 23 years of service there (NCR, July 14, 1995). Riebe, incardinated into the diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, was accused of offering protection from rebels to a wealthy rancher in exchange for cash. (This sounds unlikely: Anyone who serves in Chiapas for 23 years has long since given up any interest in cash!)
Anyway, ousted he was. In his determination to return to the people he served and still loves, Riebe did the American thing and took to the road around this nation, urging people to write letters on his behalf insisting he be readmitted to his diocese.
Along the way, he stopped in at De Matha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Md., to talk to the students. Among those listening was James Inzeo, who, he admitted to NCR, previously hadn't a clue where Chiapas was. But Inzeo and De Matha students are a tough breed. Not only did they find out about Chiapas, they wrote hundreds of letters of support. And just to be sure their voice wasn't lost, they went out and recruited other schools to do likewise -- so the hundreds became thousands.
Result -- that Riebe still is not allowed back? Sure that's the case, but it's not the result. The result is that hundreds of students learned about the struggles of others in faraway places in a way that touched them. The unintended consequence of Riebe's ouster is that they learned what Catholic social teaching -- what a truly Catholic education -- is all about: identifying oneself, in the footsteps of Jesus, on behalf of others less fortunate. Don't give up now, Fr. Riebe. And a tip of NCR's hat to James Inzeo and his fellow De Matha-ites.
Congratulations to Leslie Wirpsa, of NCR's West Coast Bureau in Los Angeles, who on May 9 was awarded a master's degree in international journalism by the University of Southern California. As part of both student and journalistic commitments, Wirpsa will be visiting Mexico and Cuba later this summer.
-- Michael Farrell
National Catholic Reporter, May 16, 1997