Bishop Kamomoe: The newest bishop in town, and what it takes

Bishop Simon Peter Kamomoe

What's in a name? Fate?

It’s the 1980s, and young Simon Peter Kamomoe is dressed in improvised priestly garb - a bedcover as the robe, a stick for the staff and a modified carton for the hat. He is playing the part of a priest in one of the high school set books of the time, as a student taking philosophical studies at St Augustine Seminary Mabanga.

The priest in the book was later promoted to become a bishop. Little did the actor know that that was his destiny. Today, that young man is 62 and is one of the two auxiliary bishops appointed by Pope Francis for the Archdiocese of Nairobi.

Not bad, for someone who didn’t want to be a priest at first.

“You see how God works? He works in mysterious ways,” he tells me, seated at his desk in his office at the Holy Family Basilica.

Now dressed in black, and real, priestly garments, the aptly-named bishop cuts the figure of someone who has quietly borne battles along the tough pilgrim’s path as God’s messenger, delivering his message to the masses.

He says his Christian background was a defining reality of the person he is; with staunch and strict Christian parents.

As a young man, he was ambitious, gunning for a place in the university to study something to do with medicine, which continues to be a passion of his to date.

While he qualified after high school, he didn’t get the opportunity to do it, so he chose to keep pursuing that dream in a junior seminary, which was a secondary school, but with a very Christian orientation.

“I remember when I went there, the people interviewing asked me if I wanted to become a priest and I said no. So I wasn’t given a chance because they said that in that school they admitted people who wanted to become priests. I said fine and stayed at home for a year,” says the Bishop.

He was a member of the youth in his church and out of nowhere, the parish priest asked him if he had joined the Queen of Apostles seminary, and he said no and told him what had happened.

Was he still interested? The parish priest asked, and when Kamomoe told him that he was, the priest said he would give him a letter to take there and this time when asked whether he wanted to be a priest, he should say yes. This time, he was successful.

However, when it was time to decide on whether he was going to be a priest, what had previously been a clear-cut “No” was now hazy.

“Before you complete, they present two forms. One for the university, and the other for the senior seminary. I got stuck. How, I don't know. I was not able to decide. So I was given two weeks to pray and decide,” he says.

“After two weeks, from nowhere I said, ‘Let me try the senior seminary.’ You see you can have your plans but God can have others,” he says as he looks back on the moment that would define the rest of this life.

Kamomoe plays the role of a priest in a play.

God must have wanted him to become a priest because, on the rare occasion when, unbelievably, the seminary students held a strike with him as one of the leaders, he was told not to go back there.

“However, to be discontinued by the seminary, your bishop has to decide. Cardinal Otunga was the archbishop when the three of us as leaders of the strike were discontinued. When the Cardinal was told about us, he said I could continue. Why? I don’t know. I didn’t defend myself or anything. My two friends were suspended for a year but they became priests later,” he says.

“So all these things you experience, you see the hand of God even if they’re not clear at the time.”

His early life as a priest would be fraught with challenges, and he describes it as “very frustrating.”

“I was a very frustrated priest. I was frustrated by the administration but I won’t go into details. As maybe a turning point, that time I felt nobody understood me, only God had called me. I started wanting to depend on God more than anybody else because I didn’t know why I was being frustrated,” he says.

When he was sent to Ndeiya, then quite remote, he was happy. There was no tarmac road and he had no car. He would sometimes be given lifts by the young men of the village on donkeys as they went to fetch water.

“I enjoyed working in the village,” he says.

Later on, in 1998, he became the father-in-charge at Our Lady of Fatma Kiriko Parish, which he says was then also a tough place. He was sent there at the height of  El Nino.

“I had very poor means of transport and I think they were testing me to see how I would handle it,” he says.

In 1999 he became father-in-charge of a bigger parish, Kiambu Parish. Up until then, he had been doing short stints of three months, seven months, four months and so on before getting transferred, but he would stay at the Kiambu Parish for 10 years.

“I think God now wanted me to be stable,” he says.

In 2008, he was appointed as Administrator at the Holy Family Minor Basilica.

“Cardinal John Njue said he wanted someone who was an all-round person and they decided I could do it. I don’t know whether I’m all-rounded but that’s what they said.

I have now been here for 14 years. You see how God works? You start with a lot of frustration, but God was somehow preparing me. After 14 years God has now given me the honour to serve as a bishop,” he says.

It was not a position he ever dreamed of, despite people telling him that he would one day be a bishop. Even coming to the main church was a matter of obeying God’s will for him, as he thrived in less prestigious places.

“I only wanted to become more and more effective as a priest. I feel very fulfilled when I’m serving the people and enlightening people with the word of God and helping people,” he says.

As a bishop, he explains that it also comes with more work that he could not have done as a priest. For instance, as a bishop, he can now ordain priests.

Also, while as a priest he was focused on his parish and the Archdiocese of Nairobi, but now has to focus on the entire church and is a member of KCCB (Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops), which comes with more responsibilities. As a member, he is now the chair of the Justice and Peace national office, which deals with conflicts in the country, reconciliations and so on. At the time of the interview, they were negotiating with the government regarding the doctors’ strike.

“My prayer is that God gives me the grace to help us fulfil Christ’s mission, help people experience God’s love and to share that love with all people, especially those who are suffering and the vulnerable, like the youth and children,” he says.

Bishop Simon Peter Kamomoe.

The journey to becoming a bishop

Being appointed a bishop is a long process, often years long. The representatives of the Pope in Kenya do groundwork on the person who has been proposed.

Bishop Kamomoe explains that you can be proposed from any corner – either by Christians themselves, a priest, a bishop, and so on. Once you are proposed they begin research on you.

“It takes very long and is very confidential, you don’t know that they are doing it. In our case, it took two to four years.  They ask everybody, including children but in a way that the people being asked won’t know they are doing it,” says the bishop.

“They then talk to the priests and bishops  – how does he treat Christians, how does he treat the nuns, how does he live with the other priests and so on.”

When they are satisfied that you have reached the threshold they want, they forward your name to Pope’s office. That office also conducts its research. When they are through, they wait for the Pope to give a go-ahead, then they send the message back to the representative in Kenya, and then you have to give consent.

What was it like, to get the message that the pope had appointed him as bishop?

“I remember it was on a Monday. I got a call from the Apostolic Nuncio, who is the ambassador of the holy father in every country, the pope’s representative. I was called by the Sister there, and she said that the nuncio wanted to meet me the following day. When you hear such a thing from that kind of an office you start becoming anxious, of course,” he says with a chuckle.

The ordination of Bishop Simon Peter Kamomoe 

“I went, we had a bit of a chat and then he broke the news that the holy father thought I could become a bishop. I didn’t know what to say.”

He accepted it and is now one of the two newest bishops in town. He thanks God for what he deems an honour to be a bishop and interprets it as God wanting him to do more for the church.


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