Additional information
Kenya: Our treasure is our heart
16 June 2013

The Don Bosco Boys Band leads the way during a mass and celebration organised by JRS at the Divine Word Parish in Kayole, Nairobi to commemorate the World Refugee Day. (Charles Njanga/JRS)
Quoting extensively from a booklet by Pope Francis on Displacement, the Bishop decried the xenophobia, intolerance and racism shown towards refugees.
Nairobi, 16 June 2013 – The grey overcast Nairobi skies did not dampen the spirits of people who had gathered at Divine Word Parish in Kayole, Nairobi for a mass and celebration organised by Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) to commemorate the World Refugee Day. The theme for this year is 'one family torn apart by war is too many'. There was a buzz of excitement and anticipation as the crowd waited for the mass to begin. The area around the church was a sea of colour as people who seemed dressed in their Sunday best milled around, with the dominant dress code being that of elaborately designed African print dresses.

During his homily, Rt. Rev. Virgilio Pantes, Catholic Bishop of Maralal Diocese in Kenya speaking while celebrating mass reminded the congregation that Africans are known for hosting refugees. Bishop Pantes challenged the congregation to change their hearts from that of stone to one of flesh in order to be more hospitable and accommodating to refugees. Quoting extensively from a booklet by Pope Francis on Displacement, the Bishop decried the xenophobia, intolerance and racism shown towards refugees.

Hospitality of Kenya for refugees. "Jesus was the first refugee while in Egypt", said Bishop Pantes in his homily for the day reminding those present that in our contemporary world Jesus comes in the form of a Somali, a Congolese, a Rwandese, an Ethiopian and other refugees who are present in Kenya. He reminded the congregation that Kenya is well known for its hospitality. The clergy man acknowledged the fact that Kenya was currently hosting a large number of refugees, citing Dadaab as "the third largest city in Kenya after Nairobi and Mombasa". Dadaab, in north-eastern Kenya, is currently host to nearly 500,000 refugees mainly from Somalia.

The Bishop urged Christians to forgive one another because they too have been forgiven. "If you touch the poor, you touch the body of Christ", the Bishop further said quoting Pope Francis. He additionally urged those present not to commit sins of omission by failing to speak out against injustice.

After the mass, the second part of the programme began that comprised of entertainment and speeches from representatives of various humanitarian agencies. The Don Bosco Band, smartly dressed in red tunics led the way to the church hall where the festivities were to take place.

Thrilling entertainment. First on stage was the Kivuli-Kabiria group that performed a graceful Rwandese dance that set the mood for the afternoon. Soon it was the turn of the melodious voices of the Kayole Catholic Church choir that had people clapping and tapping their feet to their songs. The show stopper for the entertainment was the Hoza drummer dancers that electrified the audience with their spirited and energised performances.

The parish priest of Divine Word Parish Fr. Tony Amissah SVD, while receiving a gift during the celebration acknowledged the good work that JRS was doing in the service of refugees. The priest revealed that the parish was serving a big number of refugees who were residing in the area. Representatives from Tushirikiane Africa (TUSA), Heshima Kenya, NCCK, Don Bosco, Refugees United and the Catholic Secretariat also gave speeches during the function.

In her speech, the JRS Kenya Country Director, Mary Gikonyo, reiterated the commitment of JRS to serve those that have been forcibly displaced. She particularly singled out the assistance accorded to women and girls. "JRS will continue to give refugees hope", she went on to say, stressing that the day was set aside to show the commitment of JRS to refugees. Gikonyo further said there was a need to address the underlying issues affecting refugees, especially those in urban areas, pointing out that, "We can all make a difference".

In her vote of thanks, the JRS Nairobi Urban Project Director Virginia Mumo acknowledged the input of various humanitarian agencies that had supported JRS to make the day a success. The celebration was closed with a prayer by Sr. Francisca Shiundu of the JRS Nairobi Pastoral programme.

As the crowd slowly filed from the hall after the function ended, the laughter and happy chatter showed that it had indeed been a day well spent.

By Charles Njanga, JRS Eastern Africa Regional Communications Officer

In Nairobi, JRS provides a range of services to new arrivals, asylum seekers and refugees in the most vulnerable circumstances. These services include emergency food and medical assistance, assistance with rent payment, provision of basic non-food items, support for income generation activities, pastoral and psychosocial accompaniment, and educational scholarships for the children of vulnerable refugees. In addition, JRS runs the Mikono Shop based at the Nairobi office, which provides an outlet for refugees to sell and market their handicrafts.