As the Catholic Church faces shortage of priests owing to the aging generation of the clergy, six young men took their leap faith on Saturday and joined the St Franciscan Friar.
In a colourful ceremony held at their novitiate in Molo, Nakuru County, the young men from Kenya and Uganda joined the religious order founded by St Francis of Asisi in the 13th century.
The ceremony brought joy to a church that is struggling with a severe shortage of young priests.
Some dioceses in Kenya have gone for decades without ordination ceremonies leading to a decline in priests.
The six included Dennis Embati, Patrick Bahati and Donald Dribiri all from Uganda and Geoffrey Opiyo, Cornelius Owuor and Godfrey Mosota from Kenya.
Their decision to join priesthood comes as a big relief to the Catholic Church that has been courting young men to devote their lives to priesthood.
Brother Tony Donald, the world head of St Franciscan Brothers says it is becoming hard to attract the youth to priesthood. He says some of them join the church for social and economic reasons.
“Religious life is no longer attractive to young people and only committed youth can consider religious life as an option, “said Brother Donald.
The ageing population of priests are facing challenges. Some have been removed from their positions while others are facing allegations of misconduct.
Brother Charles Langu the St Franciscan Regional minister based in Uganda attributes the plummeting number of priests to the breakdown of traditional family structures and the cultural challenges faced by young men.
“Some families discourage young men from joining priesthood because they want them to continue their family lineage,” said Brother Langu.
Brother Langu said the St Franciscan friar is in a transition period and is facing a generation gap as the pioneers from Ireland are fast ageing.
“The average age of the four Franciscan Brothers-Tony Donald, Mathew Mccmark, Baptist Sugrue and Generald Smith who came to East Africa in the 1970s is 70 years,” he said.
Brother Stephen Nyabola from Kitale Diocese urged the brothers to rebuild the church.
“These young men start a tough journey to train as shepherds who manage believers’ relationship with God at a time when there are ever fewer seminary students,” said Brother Nyabola.
Dennis Embati, 23, from the diocese of Arua in Uganda was excited to join the novitiate.
“My desire to serve God made me to join St Franciscan brothers, I am ready for the race and I hope to make a good finish,” said Dennis.
Patrick Bahati, from Gulu Archdiocese in Uganda said he joined St Franciscan brothers because he loves serving the community.
“My heart was restless and the only place I found it can have a permanent rest is by serving God through Franciscan brothers,” said Bahati.
Brother Didus Twesigye, 25, from Mbarara Diocese in Western Uganda said it is not a walk in the park to become a member of the St Franciscan brothers.
“It takes courage. At one stage I felt like quitting, I prayed to God to give me courage to soldier on. I’m happy I completed my two years’ formation,” said Brother Twesigye who urged young people to choose a religious life which he said is fulfilling. He says he admires world’s best teacher Brother Peter Tabichi.
“I want to train as an expert in the field of sustainable agriculture and Brother Tabichi is my role model,” he said.
Brother Francis Manyasa, 27, from Kakamega Diocese said he was excited to have made the first vows.
“It is by the grace of God. At one stage I felt like quitting. I want to touch the lives of people by serving God through the Franciscan way of life,” said Brother Manyasa who wants to train in sustainable agriculture and rural development.
The head of the Catholic Church Pope Francis last year acknowledged the number of priests are dwindling.
And as the priests become scarce, Pope Francis in 2017 suggested that the church might allow married men to be ordained. To address the severe scarcity, the church is also thinking of inviting women into the ministry.
In August 2016 at the request of the Synod of Bishops, the highest Catholic decision making body, Pope Francis established a commission to study female deacons. The report of the commission is yet to be made public by the Vatican.