Kenya's New Abbot

By Fr. Casmir Odundo

New Abbot: Rt. Rev. Fr. John Baptist
History was made in Kenya today when Rt. Rev. Fr. John Baptist Oese Imai was finally blessed as an abbot. He becomes the first Benedictine Abbot in Kenya. History has it that some years past, we had an abbot in Kipkelion Monastery in Kericho who belonged to the Cistercian order. 

His elevation is a consequence of the fact that the Conventual Priory of Prince of Peace, Tigoni Kenya of the Benedictine Missionaries of St. Ottillien was in the month of September elevated to an abbey-the full form of a Benedictine monastery.  

The  Benedictine Missionaries were invited to Kenya in 1972 by three Bishops, Servant of God Maurice Micheal Cardinal Otunga then, Archbishop of Nairobi, the Late Bishops Emilio Njeru and John Njenga of Eldoret.  In Nairobi they are basically in Tigoni and Ruaraka, in Nyeri they are in Nanyuki where they run the Bible on the Ground animation and retreat centre and finally in Eldoret they served in many parishes in Kerio Valley (Marakwet) region. Today they also have a presence in Marsabit diocese.

The New Abbot with Bishop Kamau and two other Abbots from Africa

Today’s ceremony was presided over by Bishop David Kamau, the Auxillary Bishop of Nairobi Archdiocese on behalf of the Archbishop, John Cardinal Njue. Present were two other Abbots, Abbot Pambo and Abbot Placidius from different Abbeys in Africa. The Mass began with the usual pomp, colour and joy that usually accompany Masses on such solemn days. After the Gospel, the new Abbot was presented to the Bishop. Then followed the homily which was preached by Abbot Martin Pambo from Tanzania. In his homily Abbot Pambo reflected on the mystery of God’s plan. He said that God’s plan for each person is unique. He noted with Profound gratitude to God that Rt. Rev. Fr. John Baptist was the First Abbot of Tigoni Abbey. He explained that though an abbot puts on insignia's similar to a Bishop. Abbots are not Bishops. “Bishops are appointed by the Holy Father; an abbot is elected by the monks in an abbey. The election is of course ratified by the competent ecclesial authority. Bishops are consecrated or ordained Bishops; abbots are blessed. The jurisdiction of a bishop covers the entire Portion of the People of God entrusted to him; the abbot has jurisdiction over his monks and is also to take special care of those who come to the monastery.” He went on to explain the significance of the insignia that will be presented to the new Abbot. “The Pectoral Cross which abbots and Bishops wear on their chest is a reminder of the heavy burdens entrusted to them. The Ring is a symbol of fidelity to the mission, the Mitre a symbol of the dignity of the office and Staff with a crooked head a symbol of authority to protect and bring back the flock.”  Abbot Pambo exhorted the new Abbot, “to use the Power of his office as an abbot and the authority given to him by the monks to lead the religious entrusted to him to God." Quoting the rule of St. Benedict, he reminded him that the souls of the religious have been entrusted to him. “Remember,” cautioned Abbot Pamba, “You are a shepherd of a flock that is not yours.” The new Abbot was thus urged to have the courage of a prophet that will enable him to govern justly. He further urged him not to be afraid to correct, caution and warn. Abbot Pambo quoting St. Benedict, he reminded the new Abbot that sometimes, his duty will involve using a “sharp knife” to cut off un-remorseful and stubborn members so that they don’t cause harm to the rest. The Preacher also urged the monks of Tigoni Abbey to give the new abbot maximum cooperation reminding them that according to St. Benedict, an Abbot represents Christ in the community. “The Abbot is present among you as a Father, a Teacher and a Leader.”

After the Homily, Bishop Kamau questioned the new Abbot on his resolve, to which he gracefully replied “I am so resolved.” Then it was time for the Litany of Saints, the New Abbot lay prostrate on the ground as the rest of the Church knelt in prayer to the saints in heaven. What followed was the abbatial blessing. Then the Abbot was given his insignia. First the ring, then the Mitre and finally the Pastoral Staff. He was also presented with a copy of the Rule of St. Benedict. 

He was then given a kiss of Peace by the Bishop and the other abbots. Then the priests and the other Benedictines came to congratulate him. Mass went on as usual, with the new abbot concelebrating with the Bishop. After Mass, the New abbot wearing his mitre and carrying his staff went round imparting his blessings on the people. After a few speeches, the Mass was finally concluded.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "An Abbot is superior of a community of monks in an abbey. The name abbot is derived from the Syriac form of the Hebrew ab, and means "father". St. Benedict of Nursia, the father of Western Monasticism, gave monasticism its definite form and constitution. It was him who designated an Abbot as the head of the community of monks.  St. Benedict's conception of a monastic community was distinctly that of a spiritual family. Every individual monk was to be a son of that family, the Abbot its father, and the monastery its permanent home.  The Catholic Encyclopaedia further notes that the blessing of an abbot, though important is not in itself essential for the exercise of an Abbot's order and office. Indeed, as Abbot Pambo explained in his homily,  "a monk becomes an abbot immediately after election." The rite of blessing of an abbot though a little similar in solemnity differs slightly from that of a bishop's consecration. It confers no additional jurisdiction, and imparts no sacramental grace or character. The essentials of the episcopal ordination or consecration are of course omitted. There was no imposition of hands,  consecratory prayer, anointing with sacred chrism in today's liturgy.

The new Abbot Rt. Rev. Fr. John Baptist Oese Imai hails from St. Joseph’s Parish in Kocholia, Teso in the diocese of Bungoma. He is is barely 42 years old. Prior to his election as Abbot, he served as Prior of the Tigoni before its elevation for six years. Before then,  he was Parish Priest of St. Benedicts Parish Ruaraka. He has also a long experience in formation and has been Novice master of the monks in Tigoni for many years. Like many Benedictines he has a passion for liturgy and liturgical Music. He is credited with composing the famous song Jina Maria (Nairobi Catholic County Choir) which is a favourite of many throughout Kenya and beyond. He will serve as Abbot for a term of 12 years. Though he is the First Abbot of an Abbey in Kenya, he is second Kenyan to be named a Benedictine Abbot. This is after Rt. Rev. Fr. John Paul Mwaniki was elected Abbot of Inkamana Benedictine abbey in Kwazulu Natal-South Africa in April 2018.

May God bless the new Abbot Rt. Rev. Fr. John Baptist  in his work and prayer!

The author is Parochial Vicar: St. Mary’s Parish Kabarnet. Email casmirthomas28@gmail.com

Comments

  1. Thanks fr for the lesson on your post in regard to Abbot

    ReplyDelete
  2. Congratulations. Abbot John Baptist Imae OSB. Always remember the homily given today by Abbot which touched on various aspects of an Abbot's life. I wil always pray for you.
    Thank you Fr Casmir for educating many on this. Instructing the ignorant is one of the spiritual works of mercy. Amen

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks Fr.
    This has enlightened Me..

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  4. Very informative. Thanks for sharing. Congratulations Abbott John Baptist. Blessings and best wishes in your mission

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  5. My spiritual father. Am proud he officiated my wedding immediately he came back from Tz. God bless him.

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  6. A big welcome abbot john shepherd the people of God. Congratulations.

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  7. Congratulations Rt.Rev.Fr John Baptist for the milestone.

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  8. This is a.blessing to us all abbot JB may you lead the flock as you have always done, blessings.

    ReplyDelete

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