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Faith, Hope and Heroes

NCR Staff

As Rwandan troops poured into the eastern part of what was then Zaire in the fall of 1996, Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa issued a final, fervent plea for help.

“We hope that God will not abandon us and that from some part of the world will rise for us a small flare of hope,” he said in his Oct. 28 message, broadcast to anyone, anywhere, who might have been listening.

As it turned out, no one was.

The civil and military leaders of the region, representing the last shreds of the crumbling autocratic regime of Mobutu Sese Seko, had fled weeks before, knowing that Mobutu was doomed and the Rwandans were unstoppable. Those Rwandans were largely members of the country’s Tutsi minority who blamed Mobutu for harboring Hutu militants, and as their armed bands moved east they were killing anyone who got in their way.

Munzihirwa, bishop of the diocese of Bukavu in eastern Zaire since 1993, was thus all that stood between hundreds of thousands of Hutu refugees and potential annihilation. He had long criticized all parties to the region’s violence. His last hope, shared with the handful of missionaries and diocesan personnel who stayed behind with him to shelter the refugees, was for rapid intervention by the international community.

It was not to be. Less than 24 hours later, in the afternoon of Oct. 29, death came for the archbishop.

Munzihirwa, a Jesuit who called himself a “sentinel of the people,” was shot and killed by a group of Rwandan soldiers, his body left to decay in the deserted streets of the city of Bukavu. (It was more than 24 hours before a small group of Saverian seminarians was able to recover the body and prepare it for burial). Munzihirwa had surrendered himself in the hope that two companions might be able to get away in his car; they, too, however, had been caught and executed.

At his Nov. 29 funeral, someone recalled Munzihirwa’s favorite saying: “There are things that can be seen only with eyes that have cried.”

‘So many of them’

The death of Christophe Munzihirwa, as harrowing as the details are, forms but a single episode in one of the most sweeping Christian dramas of the century just ended: the resurgence of martyrdom on a vast scale.

On May 7, 2000, as part of his celebration of the Great Jubilee, Pope John Paul II led a service of remembrance at the Roman Coliseum for what he called these “new Christian martyrs” -- Catholics and members of other Christian denominations.

“There are so many of them!” the pope exclaimed. “They are men and women of every land. They are people of all ages and callings.” John Paul called them “countless unknown soldiers who fought for the great cause of the gospel.”

A commission created by the pope had identified some 13,000 Christians who, in some sense, had sacrificed their lives in the 20th century for the faith. Most came from Europe -- some 8,700, almost all victims of communist regimes.

In recent years, however, a Vatican commission said, the primary killing fields for Christians have shifted to the Third World, and in the 1990s, to Africa.

Africa was, in many ways, the success story of the 20th century for the Catholic church, at least as measured by statistics. The number of Catholics grew from 2 million to 116 million, representing 15.6 percent of the total population. Thirty-seven percent of all baptisms in Africa today are of adults, considered a reliable measure of evangelization success since it indicates a change in religious affiliation. The worldwide average, by way of contrast, is 13.2.

Yet this growth has come at a price. Western missionaries find themselves in danger as shifting waves African conflicts lap up against their schools, clinics and convents. Native Catholics, without the same degree of backing from global religious communities and Western governments, are even more vulnerable to instability.

In Munzihirwa’s region of Central Africa, for example, at least 1.8 million people (some estimates run as high as four million) have died since 1996 in what is really the continent’s first major continental war, involving the armies of eight nations and an ever-shifting constellation of rebel groups. Other conflicts in the Sudan, in Algeria, in Angola, in Sierra Leone -- in a bewildering series of trouble spots scattered across the continent -- continue to claim hundreds of thousands of lives.

Inevitably, killing on such a vast scale creates martyrs, people of faith who lose their lives because they refuse to turn away from danger.

Catholics who know Africa caution that much of this new martyrdom would not pass the most rigorous traditional tests of what being a “martyr” signifies. The faithful are not being asked to sacrifice to idols, or sign off on a king’s illicit divorce. More often they are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I was once confronted by a guy in Liberia who wanted to steal our car,” said African Missions Fr. Kiernan O’Reilly. “I could have been stubborn and gotten myself killed. I suppose the folks back home in Ireland would have said, ‘How wonderful! He died for the faith,’ but the truth is I would have been dead because I didn’t want to give up the keys. This guy couldn’t have cared less if I was an Anglican priest or a Buddhist monk or whatever.”

Pressed on the point, however, O’Reilly acknowledged that his choice to be in a place where such confrontations are the stuff of daily life -- and similar choices by missionaries and native religious, priests, sisters and laity in Africa -- was itself a matter of faith.

“Presence is the key point,” he said. “It’s a gospel principle.”

Most observers who know African Catholicism stress that it is not a forlorn, suffering church. Time and again people interviewed for this report underscored the vitality, the joy, they find in African Catholics, in African culture generally. Some worried that a focus on martyrs might distort impressions of a church bursting with new life.

Yet in modern Africa, life and death usually stand side by side, the latter often giving purpose and urgency to the former. The martyrs are thus very much part of the story of the living African church.

Symbol of hope

Like the better-known Oscar Romero of El Salvador, also slain by military assassins, Archbishop Christophe Munzihirwa has become a symbol of hope and resistance in his country, now called the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Born in Lukambo, in the Bukavu diocese, in 1926, Munzihirwa was ordained a priest in 1958 and joined the Jesuits in 1963. He studied social science and economics in Belgium, but returned to his country in 1969 to become the formation director for Jesuits in the Kinshasha province.

His prophetic streak surfaced in 1971, when the government of CIA-backed dictator Mobutu Sese Seko responded to a youth protest movement by forcibly enrolling university-age persons, including seminarians, in the military for two years. Munzihirwa insisted on being enlisted alongside his novices, much to the embarrassment of the regime.

Munzihirwa became the Jesuit provincial superior for Central Africa in 1980. In 1986 he was made a coadjutor bishop in Kasongo, and in 1993 he became archbishop of Bukavu.

Munzihirwa earned fame for his refusal to accept patronage from Mobutu. That occasionally created obstacles for him, as in 1995 when a Catholic missionary and members of an international solidarity movement were arrested in Kasongo. When Munzihirwa demanded their release, military officials taunted him for not being a “friend” of Mobutu.

Munzihirwa solved the problem by saying that until the group was let go, he would sleep outside their cell. They were freed that evening.

Like Romero, Munzihirwa was unafraid to denounce what he considered military misconduct. During a mid-1990s Mass to install a new bishop in Kasongo, in a time in which Mobutu had ordered the city sacked because he believed it was harboring dissenters, Munzihirwa said: “Here before me I see these soldiers. I see the colonel. Stop troubling the people! I ask you, I order you: Stop it!”

The commander wanted Munzihirwa taken into custody, and he replied: “I am ready. Arrest me.” Other bishops present, however, intervened and prevented the arrest.

Despite that gesture of solidarity, Munzihirwa’s criticisms of Mobutu at times left him isolated within Zaire’s bishops’ conference. In 1995, a missionary asked him why the bishops were not more outspoken, and he replied: “Father, you can’t imagine. We are just a short distance removed from being part of the presidential mouvance,” a French term meaning “inner circle.”

After the genocide began in Rwanda in 1994, Munzihirwa became an outspoken protector of the Hutu refugees who flooded his diocese. He recognized that a few had committed atrocities against Tutsis, but regarded most as innocent victims. He called for healing across ethnic boundaries.

“In these days, when we continue to dig common graves, where misery and sickness appear along thousands of kilometers, on routes, along pathways and in fields… we are particularly challenged by the cry of Christ on the Cross: ‘ Father, forgive them,’ ” Munzihirwa said in an August 1994 homily.

“God’s mercy, which breaks the chain of vengeance, is hurtful to militants on every side. But in reality, that is the only thing that can definitively shatter the infernal circle of vengeance.”

His martyrdom was not unexpected, at least not to him. Munzihirwa had written in an Easter meditation: “Despite anguish and suffering, the Christian who is persecuted for the cause of justice finds spiritual peace in total and profound assent to God, in accord with a vocation that can lead even to death.”

His impact can be summed up in the words of Saverian Fr. Francesco Zampese, an Italian missionary who worked closely with Munzihirwa. Zampese told NCR: “He was the voice of his people.”

Five American sisters

Sometimes the heroism of martyrs is not expressed in dramatic denunciations of injustice, but in a simple, even stubborn, unwillingness to go when the going is good. Such was the case with five American sisters from Ruma, Ill., members of the Adorers of the Precious Blood of Christ order, killed in Liberia in October 1992.

Shirley Kolmer and her cousin, Joel Kolmer, 61 and 58 at the time of their deaths, Barbara Ann Muttra, 69, Agnes Mueller, 62, and Kathleen McGuire, 54, were all caught up in the violence that gripped Liberia in the early 1990s as the regime of President Samuel K. Doe collapsed.

Doe was the first president of Liberia who did not descend from the families of freed American slaves that had dominated the country since 1821. Doe had seized power, in fact, by having the last Americo-Liberian ruler, William Tolbert, disemboweled with a bayonet in 1980.

In turn, Doe was killed by a band of rebels in 1990, his body tossed into a wheelbarrow and rolled around Monrovia, the capital, so that people could slash his corpse with knives.

Soon another rebel army rose up under the command of Charles Taylor, who had served under Doe and later fled under charges of financial corruption. Taylor had been arrested in the United States and spent 16 months in a Massachusetts prison, until one night he used a hacksaw and bed sheet to escape.

He made his way to Libya, where he was trained and funded by Muammar Kaddafi, then made his way back into Liberia as a self-styled “freedom fighter.” Taylor quickly acquired a reputation for recruiting child soldiers, hooking them on heroin, and turning them loose on opponents, carrying teddy bears and automatic weapons. (Taylor is also reputed to be the main source of support for a rebel group in neighboring Sierra Leone whose trademark move is hacking off the limbs of its opponents).

It was in the context of Taylor’s ultra-violent climb to power that the five American missionary nuns met their deaths.

Shirley Kolmer taught at St. Patrick’s High School near downtown Monrovia. Joel Kolmer, Agnes Mueller and Kathleen McGuire all taught at St. Michael’s elementary and high schools, also in Monrovia. Barbara Ann Muttra ran a health clinic in Kle, 25 miles north. The five women lived together in a convent in Gardnersville, on the Eastern outskirts of the city.

The women were said to enjoy a close relationship with the local people and a grudging respect from the armed patrols that constantly harassed them. In reference to Muttra, in fact, a Western reporter once heard a gun-toting Liberian remark in refererence to Sr. Muttra, ‘That ol’ ma is full of rice.’ The comment is considered high praise in the local dialect.

For months it had been clear that the deteriorating situation posed grave danger to the nuns, for that matter to anyone in the way of the shelling and the vicious hand-to-hand combat that distinguished Taylor’s westward advance. The sisters resolved to stay in order to serve the people who had nowhere to go, fully conscious of the danger. On a trip home in the summer of 1992, Mueller gave away her most prized possessions, obviously wanting things settled, “just in case.”

Despite a climate of foreboding, the five nuns were anything but dour. According to other sisters in the order, the nuns always asked U.S. visitors for three things: U.S. currency, good chocolate and good liquor. Each was a free spirit in her own way. Joel Kolmer, for instance, before her arrival in Liberia, had played guitar in a band with three other nuns. The band was called “Bad Habit.”

In volunteering for duty in Liberia, Mueller had summed up what draws many a missionary to such places: “That’s where God is. Right there, in that struggle, in that hassle.”

In October 1992, Taylor’s forces began an all-out push to wrest control of Monrovia from the West African peacekeeping force, Ecomog that had been administering the city. Fighting broke out all along the city’s periphery, and Taylor’s men set up check points to control the flow of traffic.

The night of Oct. 20, a security guard at the convent said he was worried about his family. Two of the sisters, Muttra and Joel Kolmer, agreed to drive him home. On the way they picked up two Ecomog soldiers stranded by the fighting. As the car pulled away, shots rang out, most likely fired by troops affiliated with Taylor. Muttra and Kolmer were killed.

When the two nuns did not return to the convent, the others feared the worst, but the fighting prevented a search party from going out. Besides, there were a number of aspirants -- young African women hoping to join the community -- who had to be looked after, along with locals who had sought refuge at the convent.

The morning of Oct. 23, a band of Ecomog troops entered the neighborhood to try to evacuate anyone who was left. They soon found themselves under attack. The inhabitants of the convent were trapped.

That afternoon, Taylor’s soldiers arrived. Based on reports from witnesses, the three who took the lead roles were named Mosquito, Black Devil and Gio Devil. They demanded the keys to the car that remained at the convent. McGuire handed them over and was shot. The soldiers then demanded money from the other two sisters. Informed that there were no U.S. dollars at the convent, the soldiers shot Mueller and Shirley Kolmer, killing both of them.

To date no one has been brought to justice in the killings of the five nuns. But their presence in Liberia lives on. In the villages of Kle and Gardnersville, girls under the age of 2 today are likely to answer to Agnes, Barbara, Joel, Kathleen, or Shirley.

“These five angels of peace came to our country to minister to our people, to heal our wounds, to educate our people, and to bring to our people a fuller, fruitful and spiritual life,” wrote Archbishop Michael Francis of Monrovia in 1993. “They died because they loved us.”

When others left

Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, now nearing the end of his nine-year term as master general of the worldwide Dominican order, says few events during that time have left an imprint like the funeral of Bishop Pierre Claverie in Oran, Algeria, in 1996.

“He stayed when other people left, and when he knew his life was threatened,” Radcliffe recalled recently in an address in Rome. “Every day when we went alone around the diocese in his little car, he wondered whether he would get back that night.”

Claverie, 58 when he was killed in a bomb attack near his office, was a member of the Dominican order.

“There were thousands of Muslims at his funeral. At one point someone said simply, ‘He was the bishop of the Muslims.’ Then everyone picked it up, repeating, ‘He was the bishop of the Muslims.’ I learned from that experience the extraordinary value of simple presence,” Radcliffe said.

Claverie had been born in Algeria into a family of French expatriates. When two million Europeans fled Algeria after it acquired its independence from France in 1962, he refused to leave. Since then Algeria has become one of the world’s bloodiest points of conflict between the Islam and the West.

Life became especially precarious for the country’s tiny Catholic community in 1992, when the militant Islamic Salvation Front won Algeria’s first truly democratic national elections, only to have the results annulled and military rule imposed. Several waves of terrorist violence ensued. It has resulted in 100,000 deaths and more than a million people injured or made homeless, according to estimates by the Algerian government.

Appointed bishop of Oran in 1981, Claverie made dialogue with Islam one of the cardinal points of his career. He learned fluent Arabic, even taught the language to the privileged classes of native Arabic Algerians who had grown up speaking French exclusively.

“That is probably what is at the basis of my religious vocation,” Claverie wrote in 1996, shortly before he was killed. “I wondered why, throughout my Christian childhood when I listened to sermons on loving one’s neighbor, I had never heard anyone say the Arabs were my neighbors.

“It is my conviction that humanity can only exist in the plural. As soon as we claim to possess the truth or speak in the name of humanity we fall into totalitarianism and exclusion. No one possesses the truth; everyone seeks it.”

Claverie saw the end coming and hoped it might prevent further acts of violence. “My murder would be a great coup,” he said in 1995. “But must I leave and expose others to the same danger?”

Claverie is one of several Western religious who gave their lives in Algeria in recent years. Before he died, he celebrated a funeral Mass for seven Trappist monks. The monks, from the southwestern part of the country, were kidnapped in late March 1996. Their severed heads were found two months later after a rebel band called the Armed Islamic Group announced and claimed responsibility for the killing. Three heads were hanging from a tree near a gas station; the other four had simply been tossed onto the grass.

The rebels executed the monks after the government refused a request that they be exchanged for imprisoned members of the rebel group.

The monks had lived at the monastery of Notre Dame d’Atlas in Tibhirine, just over 60 miles south of the capital city of Algiers. Proselytizing is forbidden in Algeria, and the Trappists did not seek conversions. Instead they gave their Muslim neighbors part of the monastery to use for daily prayer, taught them French, delivered their babies, and watched over their health. The monks, in addition to being Catholic brothers, were regarded as “true Muslims,” according to local observers.

In 1993, a band of militants showed up at the monastery demanding money and logistical help. “You have no choice,” the soldiers are reported to have said. The abbot responded, “Yes, we do.” Told they were interfering with preparations for Christmas Mass, the soldiers departed. It was a temporary retreat.

One of the Trappists, aware of that he might become a martyr, wrote the following words on Pentecost Sunday in 1996, a matter of weeks before his death.

“If it should happen one day -- and it could be today -- that I become a victim of the terrorism that now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners in Algeria, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country.

“I would like them to be able to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones allowed to fall into the indifference of anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less.

“I don’t see how I could rejoice if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder. … I know the contempt in which Algerians taken as a whole can be engulfed.

“This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills: immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, playing with the differences.”

Killed in the monastery were Frs. Christian de Cherge, 59, prior; Celestin Ringeard, 62; Christophe Lebreton, 45; Bruno Lemarchand, 66, who was visiting from a monastery in Morocoo; and Brs. Paul Favre Miville, 57, Michel Fleury, 52, and Luc Dochier, 82.

When Claverie presided over the monks’ funeral, he explained their decision to remain in harm’s way. “A good shepherd does not run away when wolves come,” he said. It was his decision as well.

Colonial policy

The ethnic fury that set Hutus and Tutsis to killing one another in the mid-1990s in Rwanda created a contagion that quickly spread into the surrounding nations of Uganda, Burundi and Congo. The consequence was killing on an unimaginable scale.

Though presented by the world’s media as an ancient “tribal” conflict, in fact the roots of the violence were as much in Western colonial policy. In pre-colonial Africa, “Hutu” and “Tutsi” were never clear-cut ethnic categories. Under German and Belgian colonial rule in the 19th century, however, the distinction was radicalized and racial identity cards issued to tell the groups apart. A policy developed of discriminating in favor of the Tutsis. This apartheid-style policy led some analysts to call the Hutus the “Palestinians of the Great Lakes,” a majority living under virtual colonization of a minority supported by the West.

A series of wars and rebellions followed the period of de-colonialization, in which the Hutus and Tutsis jockeyed for power in several Great Lakes-area nations. This area, in center-east Africa, focused on Lake Victoria and a number of smaller bodies of water, includes Rwanda, Burundi, Congo and Uganda.

Two incidents in Burundi, where more than 150,000 people lost their lives from 1993 to 1996, and where 62 percent of a population of six million is Catholic, illustrate the ways martyrdom can happen in such a context.

Archbishop Joachim Ruhuna of Gitega, some 50 miles east of the capital of Bujumbura, was killed on Sept. 9, 1996. In a final testimony to Ruhuna’s reputation for independence, both Tutsis and Hutus continue to blame the other for the hail of gunfire that rained down on the archbishop’s car, leaving him, two nuns, and four other passengers dead.

His corpse was never recovered, presumably having been flung into the nearby Mubarazi River. It was the manner in which thousands of other victims of Central Africa’s version of “ethnic cleansing” were disposed.

Ruhuna was on his way back to Gitega from making a parish visit. He routinely traveled without an armed escort, though he had been warned repeatedly that such conduct might cost his life. Once, local sources say, a band of thugs pounced on Ruhuna and announced their intention to kill him. The archbishop calmly asked for a moment to make his peace with God. The act so impressed the bandits that they let him go free.

Ruhuna was a Tutsi, and several members of his family had been killed in a previous wave of Hutu-led violence in 1993. But Ruhuna never flinched from condemning the excesses of the Tutsi-dominated military in Burundi. At a memorial for Tutsi victims of a massacre in July 1995, he said: “Let me warn the killers and those who sent them -- your crimes are the shame of humanity. And let me say to those who seek vengeance, if you too become a killer, God will curse you just as surely as he curses the others.”

At that memorial service, Ruhuna was actually booed by his fellow Tutsis when he warned that “extremists” were at work on both sides, and demanded that the violence come to an end.

When news of Ruhuna’s death reached Rome, John Paul II referred to the slain archbishop as a “generous minister of God.” At Ruhuna’s funeral, the pope’s representative, Cardinal Josef Tomko, called the slaying “a torment for the consciences of everyone. ... My voice joins that of your bishops, who recently have still had the courage to appeal to reason and peace by condemning hatred and fratricidal destruction.”

Ruhuna’s death, precisely because he was a high-ranking church official, made international headlines. With a daily toll of death in the hundreds, if not thousands, it was inevitable, however, that many other acts of martyrdom, equally stirring in their own way, would pass largely unnoticed by the wider world.

Witness to God’s love

One such incident took place in Buta, in the southern Burundian diocese of Bururi, on April 30, 1997. That night a band of armed men entered the minor seminary in Buta, which housed seminarians in their high school years, and demanded that the young men separate into groups of Hutus and Tutsis. The obvious purpose was to execute the members of one of the groups and conscript the other, though in the heat of the moment it was not clear which group was targeted for death.

A seminarian who survived the incident later described what happened.

“There were very many of them, a hundred it seemed to me. They entered our dormitory, the one of the three classes of the senior years, and they shot in the air four times to wake us up. … Immediately they began to threaten us, and moving between the beds they ordered us to separate, Hutus on one side and Tutsis on the other. They were armed to the teeth: rifles, grenades, pistols, and knives. But we stayed together as a group.

“Then their leader lost patience and gave the order: ‘Shoot these idiots who won’t separate.’ They fired the first shots at the ones under the beds. As we lay in our blood, we prayed and begged pardon for those who were killing us. I heard the voices of my companions who were saying, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ Deep within, I uttered the same words and offered my life into God’s hands.”

This testimony was presented by Jolique Rusimbamigera during John Paul’s May 7, 2000, liturgy for the new martyrs. The pope said the seminarians “bravely bore courageous witness to God’s love.”

One of the revolutions in the Catholic approach to missionary work after the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) is a radically broadened definition of what counts as “evangelization.” In place of a strictly mathematical approach to evaluating the success of a mission -- how many baptisms, how many confirmations, how many vocations -- many religious communities who send members abroad have adopted other, more elusive measures, such as “presence,” “fidelity,” and “witness.”

At bottom, the idea is that it is perhaps less important to change someone’s outward religious affiliation than to change hearts -- or, perhaps better put, that the former is meaningless without the latter.

This approach to mission was vividly lived in Kenya for 36 years by Mill Hill Fr. John Anthony Kaiser, an American who was killed by a shotgun blast to the head on Aug. 24, 2000. His body was found under a couple of acacia trees, his beat-up pick-up truck in a ditch nearby. He was 68.

Kaiser had lived and worked for the last five years of his life in a remote rural village that neighbors the country’s world famous Masai Mara Game Reserve, close to the Tanzanian border. He saw his mission not just as building parishes and schools, though he did that with a vengeance, but also as speaking out when vulnerable people were threatened by the powerful. Over the years, his sharp tongue earned him some powerful enemies.

Kenya, though spared the waves of genocide that have rolled through some other African nations in recent years, was characterized during the 1990s by a continual state of low-intensity violence. Some was generated by ethnic clashes, some by extra-judicial killings by police and military officials trying to wipe out resistance to President Daniel arap Moi.

After nine years as head of a single-party state, Moi allegedly returned multi-party democracy to Kenya in 1991. In fact, however, Moi and his KANU party continue to dominate the political system. Moi also commands the military services, controls the security, university, civil service and judiciary and the provincial, district and local governance systems. Human rights groups blame Moi for at-times brutal repression of dissent.

Some government sources have suggested that Kaiser’s death was actually a suicide, a theory Catholic officials in Kenya have dismissed. Episcopal conference chair Bishop John Njue told NCR that the church will continue demanding to know who killed Kaiser and the motive behind the act.

Kaiser had long denounced the tendency to violence among all the ethnic groups in Kenya, and had likewise issued denunciations over the years of the corruption and repression he associated with the government. He sparred with Moi over issues of land rights and property distribution.

Some observers have suggested that Kaiser was killed because of his advocacy on behalf of young Masai girls raped by male elders, including prominent political figures. He had testified in private against a prominent member of Moi’s cabinet, and was said to be compiling dossiers on three more cases of rape committed by well-known public figures.

Kaiser had also come into the limelight in 1998, testifying before a body called the Akiwumi Commission about tribal clashes in Kenya, identifying several cabinet members and provincial administrators of promoting the violence. He angered the powerful tourism, trade and industry minister, Nicholas Biwott, and his counterpart in the Office of the President, William ole Ntimama, for example, when he accused them of sending youths to Israel for commando training.

In the wake of this activity, Kaiser had been told his work permit in Kenya would not be renewed, and he went into hiding for a time to avoid expulsion. Public pressure eventually forced the permit to be renewed, a move that ironically brought Kaiser back into the open and led to his death.

Yet those who knew him say Kaiser’s heroism was not just a matter of occasional prophetic outbursts. It was also the less dramatic stuff of daily fidelity. Writing in America magazine in October, Dominican missionary Fr. L. Martin Martiny said this:

“The deeper story of Father Kaiser is about his 36-plus years of almost anonymous toiling on behalf of his flock in rural areas of Kenya. The Father Kaisers of the world leave home and family as young men and spend their lives building churches, tending to the sick, burying the dead, bringing Mass and the sacraments to remote communities.

“Sometimes they face local hostility; most often they confront the day-in, day-out fatigue and frustration of mechanical failures, no electricity, transportation woes and sickness from diseases like malaria, cholera and tuberculosis.

“They live their lives, serve their flocks and in many cases die in their adopted land. Some retire and return to their native soil for their remaining years. Whichever the case, they are remembered for awhile by the people they served, but forever in the mind of God.”

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is jallen@natcath.org.

National Catholic Reporter, February 23, 2001