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Kenya: As refugees, we still can do great things
20 November 2012

Members of the Riruta Parish refugee prayer group and other members of the congregation pose for a group photo after attending an Eucharistic celebration at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Riruta, Nairobi that had been organised by JRS. (Francisca Shiundu/JRS)
The day had been planned for the refugees of Riruta prayer group to gather together for prayers as they celebrate mass.
Nairobi, 20 November 2012 - Wednesday 24th October will remain a memorable day not only for the refugee prayer group of Riruta Parish but also for JRS Nairobi region as a whole. Riruta stands out as the first to organise a successful Eucharistic celebration, since the formation of prayer groups.

The day had been planned for the refugees of Riruta prayer group to gather together for prayers as they celebrate mass. We thought only the prayer group members of Riruta were to attend, but surprisingly it was attended by a few representatives of refugees from Dagoreti parish, new refugees who had just come and even Kenyans who included nuns and other Christians from the parish. This was my first time to see such a big number of refugees of Riruta meeting. They included men, women, youths and children. Each of those who attended the celebration put on their 'Sunday best' and they all looked different to me.

The morning was bright and that made the environment seem friendly all around. By 8.30am, refugees had started gathering in the church compound for the celebration. By 9.20am, everybody was already seated in the church and at 9:30 am the Celebration begun with the entrance hymn, and then the priest entered for the mass.

It was a solemn but touching celebration that was presided over by Rev. Fr. James Karanja, the parish priest of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church - Riruta. There were songs sung by the group members followed by a reading from one of them. During the mass, the responsorial psalm was intoned by a student assisted by the pastoral coordinator.

The life of a refugee. In the homily the priest started by narrating the story of the Israelites banishment in exile, the challenges they underwent while there and their coming back to the Promised Land. The story then turned to Jesus Christ fleeing to Egypt as a REFUGEE where he stayed until after the death of those who wanted to kill him, after which he came back to his home land. Fr. James drew parallels to the displacement of people in our country Kenya due to the post election violence of 2007/2008. "People are forced to move from their homeland to another foreign land due to various reasons," he said. "People do not choose to be born from a particular tribe or nationality; you only find that you belong to this or that tribe or nation. We need to love each other as children of the same family despite the origin," he said. "As refugees we still can do great things. This shouldn't pull us down because we are refugees. We have seen people who have done great things while outside their countries as refugees," he added.

Later after the other proceedings of the Eucharistic celebration where the congregation sang the thanks-giving song, the priest asked those with children to take them forward for blessing. At the end of the mass, a vote of thanks was given by the social worker and then finally the distribution of food and non foodstuffs took place.

Each of the members looked happy and contented as most of them stayed on even after the celebration. Each of the members present looked happy with the celebration as they all felt they had received special blessings. Being the first time for them to celebrate as a prayer group, they felt so much honoured and appreciated the concern of JRS for them. They requested that the celebration of the Eucharist should be done on a monthly basis.

JRS has been assisting urban refugees in Nairobi since 1991, responding to the urgent, unmet needs of newly arrived asylum seekers and refugees in the most vulnerable circumstances. As of July 2012, estimates suggest the number of refugees and asylum seekers residing in Nairobi is around 50,000.The refugee prayer group of Riruta Parish is one of the groups that have been supported by the JRS Urban Emergency Project in Nairobi.

By Sr. Francisca Nyanyi Shiundu SMK,
JRS Pastoral Coordinator, Urban Emergency Programme, Nairobi