“Given a second chance of a choice of life I will still choose to be a priest. I have no regrets,” these are the words of Father Moses Paul Muraya Muchunu.
“When I was thinking about becoming a priest, I knew I had to remain celibate for the rest of my life but that did not stop me from joining priesthood,” he adds.
Fr Muraya has served for 36 years at the Catholic Diocese of Nakuru.
Records available at the 51-years-old diocese which was hived from Diocese of Eldoret in 1968, indicates that Fr Muraya, 66, is one of the longest serving clergymen in Nakuru Diocese.
Priests retire at the age of 70 while bishops quit after reaching the mandatory age of 75.
He was ordained a priest on November 19, 1983 at Gilgil Parish at the age of 30 by the retired Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana a’ Nzeki whom he describes as “a straight forward person who never kept grudge.”
Archbishop Ndingi is celebrating 50 years this year since his ordination as bishop by Pope Paul VI in Uganda during the pontiff’s historic visit to Africa.
Archbishop Ndingi was the second bishop of the Diocese of Nakuru that also covers parts of Baringo County.
Fr Muraya has served in many roles and places: assistant priest at Kipchimchim Parish, priest at Roret and Olenguruone parishes, priest in charge and Vicar General at Christ The King Cathedral, Nakuru and Diocesan Administrator, Vocational director, Rector St Mary’s Major Seminary and Kenya Catholic Secretariat- seminary commission secretary.
But how has his journey been as a priest for nearly four decades?
“It has been a long journey of high expectations and desire to fulfil my ambition to remain a trusted Catholic and a priest forever. It has not been easy,” says Fr Muraya.
Born on June 30, 1953 in Elburgon, Fr Muraya has seen it all during his long career as a priest.
He witnessed the first ever tribal clashes in Nakuru in the early 1992 where hundreds of people were killed in Molo.
“This was probably one of my darkest moments as a priest. It was frightening to see bodies with deep cuts and arrows strewn on the road. I could not sleep for weeks,” he recalls.
“This was a nasty experience and I pray it shall never happen again in Kenya.”
The jovial clergyman who easily mingles with parishioners is easy-going, humble and accessible by most parishioners.
“There is nothing as fulfilling as meeting a friendly priest when seeking for spiritual guidance. Fr Muraya is reachable,” says Mr Joseph Kiheri, a faithful at St Monica Catholic Church in Section 58 where Father Muraya has served since 2013.
He says materialism has reduced the urge for vocation in the church.
“People are reluctant to give birth to many children. Some of them say the economy is bad but the truth is they are chasing money. This has even affected the church as the number of priests and nuns are declining,” said Fr Muraya.
“This the third year in St Monica Parish without any ordination unlike in the past when we had ordinations every year. The last ordination was done eight years ago,” said Fr Muraya.
He posed: “We are ageing and we are not going to be around for too long. Whom do we pass the baton to?
Fr Muraya says his journey towards becoming a priest started early in life at Kiambogo where he used to admire an Irish Priest Fr Bobby Kavanaugh.
“We used to go for months without mass as Fr Kavanaugh was the only priest and I wandered how I could become a priest and serve my people,” recalls Fr Muraya who was born in a Catholic family.
He went to St Peter’s Elburgon and at Njoro Catholic Primary School, now Ndarugu Primary School in Nakuru County.
He says he approached Fr Kavanaugh and asked him whether a black boy could become a priest.
“He said yes I could become a priest and he recommended me to join Mothers of Apostle Seminary in Eldoret after class seven,” he said.
The cleric says he admired the way the priest at his local church used to lift the Holy communion cup and read Bible verses.
“This single act alone at the altar attracted me to the priesthood and that urge to one day lead a mass lingered in my mind until my dream came true,” says Fr Muraya, the sixth born in a family of 10.
His urge to become of priest was a fulfilment of his late father Emilio Muchunu’s desire for his son to serve the Lord. Mr Muchunu, too, wanted to become a priest but did not make it to the altar after he was forced to marry by his grandfather, then a colonial chief.
“My late father greatest wish was to become a priest and one of the things that keep me going are his words during my ordination,” recalls Fr Muraya.
He adds: “My father told me ‘I thank God you have become a priest because that is what I wanted to become. Go and serve the people and preach the gospel.”
He said unlike his father, he met little opposition in his quest to become a priest.
“Only some few family members wanted me to marry and raise a family,” he said.
He joined St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Nairobi for his ecclesiastical studies between 1977 and 1982 before proceeding to Catholic University of Eastern Africa for his Masters degree in Pastoral Theology in 1988.
He also attended policy development and pastoral ministry courses locally and in Dublin, Ireland.
As his retirement hit home stretch, Fr Muraya remains strong. He has initiated development projects at St Monica and is referred as development father by the parishioners.
He remains a strong opponent of same sex marriages, homosexuality and lesbianism which he describes as “devilish”.
“God in his own wisdom knew why he made man and a woman,” he says.
He advises the new crop of priests to be serious in their calling.
“Things are changing fast with the new technology which could influence young priests and my advice to them is to change tact and be serious with their calling,” said Fr Muraya.
“It has been a long and fulfilling spiritual journey and as I approach my retirement I will continue to serve God.”