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I am leaving the newsroom to pursue Catholic priesthood

Sunday May 19 2019

Nation journalist Vincent Opiyo.

Nation journalist Vincent Opiyo. He is joining catholic priesthood in Arusha Tanzania. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

VINCENT OPIYO
By VINCENT OPIYO
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“Life is a fight and in that fight it doesn't matter how hard you hit or how well you fight.

What matters is how hard you can get hit, and keep on fighting,’ St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus popularly known as the Jesuits, said in one of his writings. Inspired by this, I have made one of the toughest decisions to “keep on fighting” by leaving my virtuous job at Nation Media Group (NMG) to pursue priesthood through the Jesuits — a Roman Catholic congregation of priests and brothers.”

CHILDHOOD WISH

I am a 29-year-old Kenyan born and bred in Busia County and the last born — together with my twin sister — of nine. My father, Patrick Masiga, is an Anglican while my mother, Mary Achieng’ Mambo, was a staunch Catholic who succumbed to cancer in 1995 when I was five years old. She introduced me to Catholicism through infant baptism when I was six months old.

According to our culture, twins aren’t allowed to witness their mother’s funeral, so we were hidden away from home until after the burial.

My education started at Sichekhe Primary School from 1998 to 2005. At the age of 12, I became an Altar Boy in my home parish, Nangina Catholic church. This was a year after finishing my catechism classes that culminated into receiving my first Holy Communion.

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It’s during this period that I started dreaming of being like my parish priest, Fr Maurice Langiri, who was a friend and a father figure.

MY DESIRE

At the time I was the Spiritual Prefect at our Catholic-sponsored St Thomas of Aquinas Primary School where he often came to celebrate Mass.

After scoring 311 marks in my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination, I successfully passed an intake at St Peters’ Minor Seminary in Kakamega County where I was admitted from January 2006 to 2009, scoring a B-Plain in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination (KCSE).

While at the Mukumu-based Minor Seminary — famously known to have bred many priests and bishops over the years — I got attracted to the Jesuits’ way of life having learned of them through their pamphlets in the school library and thereafter meeting one of them, Sylivanus Ambani, at the school. Their unique missions and solid intellectual formation attracted me.

JESUIT ASPIRANTS

I wrote to the Vocations Promoter, Fr Terry Charlton, SJ. (The abbreviation SJ — Society of Jesus — is added by professed Jesuit members at the end of names.) He responded within two weeks and that’s how my understanding of the Jesuits became deeper.

Vincent Opiyo

Vincent Opiyo (right) during a send off Mass conducted by Father Oscar Momanyi, SJ, vocations promoter for the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Eastern Africa. PHOTO | WILLIAM OERI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

After my KCSE, I had a six-month experience working in a cyber café in Shinyalu while staying with my elder sister, Beatrice.

Around May 2010, I was among the few Jesuit aspirants selected to come for a year of apostolate in Nairobi to start the candidacy programme.

During this time, April 2010 to April 2011, I assisted in the vocations office at the Society’s Curia (official body that governs a particular Church) on Ngong Road, at Mother Teresa Charity home in Lang’ata as well as at Wanawake Kwa Wanawake charity organisation in the area.

My work as a volunteer teacher in the home that housed vulnerable children from Kibera gave me life lessons that have shaped my path: the kind of suffering the poor go through, how to counsel them and their families, and encouraging them to work hard whenever they land a sponsorship.

GREAT NEEDS

I taught chemistry, Kiswahili and Biology while at the same time visiting their homes to establish their great needs.

Simultaneously, I was going through the candidacy programme with the Jesuits. Unfortunately, I wasn’t accepted to join the novitiate (the period of being a novice, in a religious order) in May 2011. Instead, I was advised to continue “discerning”.

I was frustrated because I felt my dream had been shattered, and my father was so dejected by the news that he cut communication with me for months.

ALTERNATIVE PATH

As an alternative, I joined the University of Nairobi for a Broadcast Journalism course in September 2011.

My hopes for a bursary from a charity organisation collapsed and I had to drop out after failing to pay the Sh110, 000 fees.

I, therefore, applied for evening classes at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC). The institute used to admit two students per district then. I started my evening classes in October 2011. In first year, I sold Airtel mobile phone SIM cards in the streets to add to the little upkeep my father gave me.

A SIM card was Sh50, my profit was Sh20, and my target was to sell 10 lines a day to get Sh200. That helped to pay my rent in a dilapidated structure in Kisii Village, a slum near South B.

During this time, I never stopped going for Sunday Mass at Our Lady Queen of Peace in South B.

MEDITATION

Most lunchtimes I passed by the Parish for meditation and prayers, asking God to see me through the college course and help me to get a job after that so I could live a decent life.

That went on until September 2012 when we were sent out for our first three-month internship with the Kenya News Agency (KNA).

I preferred to do mine in Kakamega town for its proximity to my home. There, I gained experience and met some lifelong fiends who gave me good advice.

SPORTS JOURNALIST

Francis Ontomwa, currently with the BBC, advised me to reach out to Patrick Korir, then Chief Editor at Futaa.com, an online website for local football, to continue honing my writing skills as a volunteer. This I did for the whole of 2013.

From the little savings, I bought a Sony digital camera and graduated from selling SIM cards to photography.

A copy went for Sh30 with an extra Sh10 for printing a photograph. My target was 10 photos a day to get Sh200 profit.

My passion for reporting football meant sometimes I skipped evening classes to watch matches at either City or Nyayo stadium.

After the game, I would rush to a nearby cybercafé to file the story fast — partly to be first online but also to pay no more than Sh10 for the time spent.

SH25,000

My efforts culminated into covering the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup from November to December 2013 in Nairobi, Machakos and Mombasa for Futaa.com.

Luckily, in January 2014, I was contracted to Futaa.com with a starting salary of Sh25,000. With this, I managed to rent a Servant Quarter in Ayany estate, Nairobi, while maintaining the faith of attending Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes, Olympic and Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, Adams Arcade.

In June 2015, I was poached by local football website soka.co.ke and also started freelancing with Tanzania-based Mwanaspoti, a Kiswahili sports newspaper published by NMG. The newspaper also has a Kenyan version. I officially joined NMG as a correspondent in January 2017.

A desire which just won’t go

Just one year and a half ago, the desire started burning in me about priesthood. I am happy working in a busy newsroom but I felt I would serve humanity better as a priest.

This is when I reached out to Fr Terry Charlton, SJ, who was the Jesuit vocation promoter on my initial unsuccessful attempt, to inquire if I could be given a second chance to aspire with the congregation.

To clear my fears and doubts, I scheduled weekly meetings with chaplain, Fr Conor Donnelly at Strathmore University for spiritual direction.

For the whole year, Fr Conor played a vital role in my prayer life to the point I was convinced God was calling me to serve him as a priest.

My desire to be taken by the Jesuits was fulfilled when I received my admission letter to the novitiate in Arusha on March 30 after going through a year-long rigorous candidacy programme.

INSPIRATION

I have read quite a number of Jesuit materials and each has inspired me. I draw inspiration from St Alberto Hurtado, SJ. He was a Jesuit priest from Chile who was rejected on the first attempt to join the congregation at the age of 15, pushing him to pursue law in the university.

Freed from academic pressures with the possibilities of a busy fruitful professional life, the young lawyer turned naturally to fulfilment of the dream that had remained central to his life — to join the Society of Jesus.

Despite discouragement from his peers given prospects of a lucrative legal career, he was admitted and became a priest.

In 1944, he launched a home for the poor ‘Hogar de Cristo’ (Home of Christ) that today serves thousands of people in extreme poverty in the South American nation.

After about nine years out, six of which I have been a sports journalist, the desire has not evaporated.

I have been encouraged by many Jesuits who became priests after pursuing professional careers.

DISCOURAGED

I have also been discouraged in equal measure by colleagues and friends. But at stake for me is my deepest desire to serve God as a religious priest.

Whenever I attend daily Mass at Nairobi’s Holy Family Basilica, I get the grace and the desire grows stronger.

It’s more immaculate whenever I attend any church function, especially ordinations where I’m inspired by the candidates — right from the procession to being presented to the altar by their parents. When they are vested, I always imagine being in their shoes.

From March last year, I have attended eight ordinations. I was awe-inspired witnessing two of my classmates being ordained priests on May 11 this year at our alma mater, St Peter’s Seminary, Mukumu.

Two of my parish mates, whom we were altar boys together are deacons now. I long to join them one day.

SUCCESSFUL CAREER

When I shared the desire with my father, he was initially against the move to quit my job but with time, he has responded in the affirmative.

I could understand his reaction as I was on a successful career path working for the largest media organisation in the region and supporting my family financially.

I have covered local football across the region gaining valuable experience and developed a wide network of contacts.

I covered the East Africa school games in Rwanda in 2015, Cecafa Kagame Cup in Tanzania last year, Senior Challenge Cup in 2013 and 2017 as well as the Ugandan league. I have virtually written for all NMG platforms — Daily Nation, Taifa Leo, Mwanaspoti, Nairobi News and Tanzanian papers, The Citizen and Mwananchi apart from being an NTV analyst.

CHALLENGES

Before joining Nation, I had worked at Milele FM for a year and did internships at Radio Maisha and Pamoja FM. I have analysed local football on Radio Citizen, Radio Jambo and KTN News.

Journalism has been part of me and I have come to love the profession despite its challenges.

While at Futaa.com, I was threatened with legal action by AFC Leopards for supposedly writing malicious information about the club in October 2014. I have also been in bad books with senior football officials for reportedly being biased.

THREATS

In August 2016, I was confronted by five men in Eldoret for exposing age-cheating during the East Africa school games and after I exclusively published the plight of former Harambee Stars coach Paul Put in the Sunday Nation in March last year some people were not happy.

The worst was in February after revealing former Stars defender George Owino’s match-fixing scandal that led to a 10-year ban from all football activities by Fifa.

Another low moment was when I lost a laptop, camera lens and my ATM cards while covering national secondary school games at Machakos Boys in 2015, a few days before I boarded my first flight to Rwanda for the Brookside East Africa school games in Butare district.

I am proud that I can multitask: confidently write in both English and Swahili, besides photography and broadcasting on radio and television. My best experience was in June 2017 when the Daily Nation sports desk entrusted me to cover the inaugural SportPesa Cup in Dar es Salaam where I fed all the NMG platforms across the region with articles, photos and videos for NTV.

MENTORSHIP GIGS

The professional side apart, I have also guided young players in their football careers. I visit their families and occasionally advise them to maintain discipline and work hard. Talking to their parents has been an eye-opener. I have also connected the more talented ones to European football agents. This has prompted some people to wrongly label me as a journalist masquerading as an agent.

I have seen the careers of many young players being shattered by selfish club officials, coaches and brokers.

Supporting such players and highlighting their plight has been gratifying.

EXPERIENCE

As I exit the media industry, I thank everyone who has journeyed with me for the past six and a half years.

My colleagues at the Nation sports desk led by Elias Makori have enabled me to pick an indelible experience.

I have made friends and perhaps enemies but everyone has been part of my journey. To my parish priest at Nangina, Fr Fred Ojilong’, curate Fr Francis Papai as well as Don Bosco Upper Hill parish priest Fr Abel Njeru, SDB, my Vocation Promoter Fr Oscar Momanyi, SJ, and all Jesuits who recommended me for this course, may God bless you abundantly.

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