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 CNS Story:

KENYA-CHILDREN Feb-21-2011 (750 words) With photos. xxxi

Kenyan church leaders teach children everyone is a missionary


A girl shades her eyes from the bright sun during a special Mass marking Missionary Childhood Day in Nairobi, Kenya, Feb. 19. Held annually by the Pontifical Society of the Missionary Childhood, the outdoor service drew 30,000 children from around the Archdiocese of Nairobi. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

By Barb Fraze
Catholic News Service

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) -- In Kenya, evangelization begins with the children.

In the Archdiocese of Mombasa, along Indian Ocean coast, children from different parishes take turns feeding and spending time with children in the local hospital for the disabled. They also visit child prisoners, delivering toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, slippers and tissues.

If a child dies, the children take over the planning of the funeral, said Sister Pauline Andrew Wangeci, a member of the Daughters of Divine Love.

"They carry the coffin, they bury that child," she said of the children. "Then they visit the family to console them with prayers."

Sister Pauline Andrew coordinates the work of the Pontifical Mission Societies for three dioceses in eastern Kenya. There are four societies, all of which concern evangelization, but the one that takes the most time, she said, is the Pontifical Society of the Missionary Childhood, known in the United States as the Holy Childhood Association.

Sister Pauline Andrew coordinates a large grass-roots network of programs and volunteers whose goal is to teach children that everyone is a missionary.

Nearly every parish in the Archdiocese of Mombasa has a volunteer animator, or coordinator, to work with the children's activities. Once a month, the parishes have a special Mass in which the children do the readings, take the collection, serve at the altar, lead the singing, and handle other liturgical tasks.

At Epiphany, parishes celebrate Holy Childhood Day with sports and a special Mass. Once each year, children from across the diocese celebrate a special Mass with the bishop.

During the April school holidays, the Pontifical Society of the Missionary Childhood sponsors a music festival. In August, it organizes sports activities, and in December, it plans a spiritual program.

Such activities are replicated across Kenya.

Felician Sister Veronica Wanjiku Maina has worked with the Pontifical Society of the Missionary Childhood in the Archdiocese of Nyeri for three years. She says the yearly Mass with the bishop is especially touching. Each parish has a small tin into which youngsters can drop donations for children in need around the world. The children carry those tins in the offertory procession at the Mass, presenting them to the bishop, who in turns blesses the children.

"He talks to them, and they entertain the bishop," Sister Veronica said, describing the Feb. 5 Mass attended by 12,000 children.

The money collected is sent to the national Pontifical Mission Societies office in Nairobi. The money is forwarded to the Vatican, where pontifical mission directors from around the world meet to decide what children's projects have the greatest need.

Some areas of the Nyeri Archdiocese are very poor, but Sister Veronica still meets with the children there.

"We ask them to support (other children) mostly with prayers ... and being a good witness," she said.

That might mean taking a friend to church, being good and studying well, staying away from bad kids or speaking out in a strong voice when called upon to recite prayers.

In her archdiocese, since the children are acting as missionaries, they also take a small collection -- less than a penny per child -- each year and buy something for the diocesan seminary. This year, they purchased a gas stove.

Both nuns credit Father Celestino Bundi, Kenyan national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies, with laying the groundwork for the active ministry to evangelize children.

Father Francis Muriithi, Pontifical Mission Societies director in the Diocese of Nakuru, serves in a diverse region that has poor farmers, nomadic herdsmen and business leaders, as well as street children and prostitutes.

He uses his network of animators to reach areas where a priest is not always present; some parishes have as many as 60 outstations because they are so large.

Father Muriithi said the animators use Pope John Paul II's idea that no one is so poor that he has nothing to offer.

Father Moses Kago, Pontifical Mission Societies director in the Archdiocese of Nairobi, also uses that approach. Although money is a resource, the poor offer other resources, he said. Energy is a resource, as is building unity and sharing.

He said that in the slums of Nairobi, animators work to teach children that "even a piece of sweet, you can break it into two to share with somebody else."

After Haiti's devastating earthquake in January 2010, he said, the children collected $835 for youngsters suffering in the Caribbean island nation.

"Each one of us was created to share himself or herself with the rest of humanity," he said.

END


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