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Kenyan priest offers thanks to L.A. parishioners for support

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A photo shows a young girl, standing next to a rundown wooden shack, wearing a yellow T-shirt with the words, “Your Vote + Me = Excellent School.”Then an explanation: “This is the place this girl calls home. She shares the same compound with animals. She becomes a parent through her work, taking care of brothers and sisters, cooking for them because her parents went to drink alcohol. She has to attend school and she is determined to be a doctor.”This picture is from the Young Nation Web site, a project run by Father Linus Gichunge, associate pastor at St. Massimo Church in Kenya. Father Gichunge recently spent his vacation in Los Angeles (hosted by St. Brendan’s community), after participating in the Sept. 2 dedication of St. Massimo’s new church, rectory and St. Dorothy School; the school was named after Glendora’s St. Dorothy Church, whose membership helped build the school and provides financial aid for most of its students.The purpose of Young Nation is to gather resources to educate and assist the most children possible in the area served by St. Massimo, which includes 16 outstations in the surrounding rural area in the Diocese of Meru (formed by 56 parishes), which are next in the construction plans.“We are building the community for tomorrow,” said Father Gichunge. “We are a missionary church, which means empowering the people. As the saying goes, ‘Don’t give them fish, but show them how to fish.’“The church is always missionary in nature,” he continues. “When we think about the church, we must see it carrying out the work of Christ. The best way to be a missionary is through love.”Thus, among his tasks is training school teachers in leadership so they can be able to manage the schools in rural areas that he oversees, aside from the main parish building and the outstations that serve nearly 20,000 parishioners. All this while the parish pastor, Father Bernard Njeru, administers Nkubu Hospital, a 200-bed diocesan facility.Father Gichunge’s role also includes overseeing St. Dorothy School and six farms that provide enough food for the students, most of whom walk long distances to and from their homes. The average salary in the agricultural area, affected by yearly droughts, is $16 per month. Three months’ tuition is $52 per elementary school student, $58 for a high school student, and $352 for a boarding student.A product of Catholic education in Meru, Father Gichunge was born in a Catholic environment. His parents were teachers, who instilled in him a love for education and work, inherited from generations of hardworking coffee growers in islands near the Kenyan forest.While most of Father Gichunge’s classmates could not attend high school due to uncertain finances, his parents could afford educating their six children in Catholic schools. His father encouraged him to attend engineering school, but young Linus had already decided he wanted to follow the call to priesthood he began “hearing” while in high school. It was a great surprise to his father when 18-year-old Linus showed him the letter of acceptance from the Major Seminary; his father had no choice but to support him. Although he had graduated from a minor seminary school, there was little or no information provided to those wishing to join the priesthood. Still, young Linus was determined and quietly sought information from parish priests and seminarians.After eight years in the seminary he earned a degree in philosophy and theology and was ordained in Meru and assigned to St. Massimo, where he has worked for the last three years.His recent trip to Los Angeles was Father Gichunge’s first out of Kenya, and his first time flying in a plane. “I was so scared,” he admitted, noting that sleep was not easy during the 19-hour flight.But the trip here has been all worth it, he declared. He is astounded by the generosity of St. Brendan parishioners — and just as surprised, he smiled, that they “don’t jump and clap during Mass as we do in Kenya,” where the Mass can last about two hours.“I have learned lots of lessons in my visit,” said the priest. “There’s a lot to learn to get to the level where the church is here [in Los Angeles.]”For more information about the Young Nation, visit www.frlinusg.kbo.co.ke, email lingichunge@gmail.com; call 254721206621 in Kenya; or visit Facebook, Linus Gichunge. Volunteers are highly needed as well as a truck and building materials for schools in rural areas.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1005/kenya/{/gallery}

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