Church welcomes urban refugees in Nairobi
16 July 2013

Sr. Francisca Shiundu, who works in pastoral & education services for the JRS Kenya urban refugee program in Nairobi, talks with Fr. James Karanja at his parish in Nairobi last month. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)

(Nairobi) July 16, 2013 — The St. John the Baptist Catholic Church here offers sanctuary and sustenance to refugees and supports Jesuit Refugee Service in Kenya by providing office space for a social worker and a meeting room for prayer groups of refugees. Additionally, parishioners have donated food and clothing to refugees in the area.

"We really feel at home here," said Sr. Francisca Shiundu, who works in pastoral & education services for the JRS Kenya urban refugee program in Nairobi. 

Fr. James Karanja has led the parish, officially St. John the Baptist Riruta Parish, since June 2012. 

When he celebrated a Mass with refugees, Fr. Karanja said "the message was to tell them that God is with them. Despite their situation, they can do something for God: they have their own dignity, and they should live up to the dignity that God has called them to."

Fr. Karanja also asked his parishioners to provide assistance to the refugee community.

"We have the moral responsibility to help the less fortunate … according to the Gospel invitation. We were able to give food and, and some (parishioners) were able to help those (refugees) who are in school with supplies like stationery and (uniforms) and other needs."

"We give back to society because we have the social responsibility (to do so)," said Fr. Karanja.

In talking with refugees, Fr. Karanja noted that "some are fairly optimistic, they feel their future is brighter. Others, despite living in the ghetto of poverty, once they come here and see what you (JRS) are doing for them they say 'yes, all is not gone, all is not lost' and they have hope."

The church hosts a youth group which seeks to integrate refugees with Kenyan members of the group.

"The young people, especially from Sudan, are part and parcel of the young people in our church. They feel that they belong. They normally attend the midday Mass, in English. Weekdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. they are here praying with other young people in the parish," said Fr. Karanja.

They feel that they belong, and we want them to feel they belong, because they do belong, Fr. Karanja noted. To highlight the open doors of his church, Fr. Karanja cites the Biblical passage of Matthew 25: 31-46, particularly:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me. …. whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.

"I have seen the reality of the Gospel here. People come and knock, and we live according to that Gospel, because in those refugees — according to my own understanding — is Christ. I see Christ in those who are refugees in our country. We don't want to segregate them, we want to bring them into our homes, into our church," said Fr. Karanja.

by Christian Fuchs
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA

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