Bishop Alfred Kipkoech arap Rotich has been installed as the new head of the Kericho Catholic Diocese.
Archbishop Martin Kivuva, the head of the Mombasa Archdiocese, presided over the ceremony at Kericho Teachers Training College.
Bishop Rotich, a former head of military ordinance, was appointed to head the Kericho Diocese by Pope Francis on December 14, 2019.
The communication was made by the Pope's representative in Kenya Archbishop Bert Van Megen.
He becomes the third bishop of the Kericho Diocese, with Bishop Philip Anyollo, the current Bishop of Kisumu, having been the first to head the diocese.
Bishop Rotich resigned from the military in 2016 at the age of 55, having attained the rank of colonel — the highest level a serving cleric can attain in the military.
Deputy President William Ruto, Africa National Congress (ANC) party leader Musalia Mudavadi, Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina and Simon Chelugui, governors Paul Chepkwony (Kericho), Dr Hillary Barchok (Bomet) and Stephen Sang (Nandi), Senate majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen and a host of MPs were among those in attendance.
The installation of Bishop Rotich as the third head of the Catholic Diocese of Kericho yesterday gifts the people of the diocese with a consummate ecumenist.
The charismatic 62-year-old bishop, whom Pope Francis appointed to the See of Kericho last year, takes over from retired Bishop Emmanuel Okombo. Bishop Okombo took over from the first Bishop of Kericho, Philip Anyolo, on March 23, 2003. The latter served from December 6, 1995, when the diocese was hived off Nakuru.
To his admirers, the six years since his retirement in 2013 as Bishop of the Kenya Military Ordinariate — an institution within the Catholic Church that provides pastoral care to Catholics serving in the Kenya Armed Forces and their families — must have seemed like ages.
Born on July 27, 1957, in Longisa, Bomet County, Bishop Rotich’s journey to priesthood has all the elements of the unlikely. Growing up in the immediate postcolonial era when religious and denominational chauvinism was rife, the prelate credits an Anglican minister he describes as ‘a very holy man’, for encouraging him to stick it out in his priestly quest. “He really encouraged me to be serious in answering to my vocation,” Bishop Rotich recalls. “May God rest his soul,” he adds.
Canon Paul Too, for that was his name, was like a father to young Alfred. “He’s the age-mate of my father … Before he died, we used to communicate. When I went home, I visited him. He was a provost of Kericho Anglican Holy Trinity Church,” Bishop Rotich recalls.
That could explain why his ordination to the priesthood was witnessed by more than just Catholics. “I saw the presence of other denominations,” he says, many of them from his village. Needless to say, Canon Too was among them.
The ecumenical foundations that Canon Too laid in the young seminarian’s life were reinforced during his third year of priestly formation at St Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in Lang’ata in 1979.
“Our [theology] professors and lecturers impressed upon us that we needed to be formed to understand what ecumenism — the principle or aim of promoting unity among the world’s Christian churches — is in the mind of the church. It was impressed on us that in the parish, we must establish a unit of Christian prayer groups that meet, say yearly, but with discussion topics spread out throughout the year,” the Bishop said.
He spoke on the sidelines of the 2020 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that was celebrated last month, when he preached at ACK All Saints Cathedral on Kenyatta Avenue.
It’s the tradition of the International Ecumenical Movement — Kenya Chapter (IEM-K) — a grass roots organisation — that when the launch of the Week of Prayer is held in a Protestant Church, a Catholic cleric preaches, and vice versa. The 2020 edition of the Week of Prayer was the first time a Kenyan bishop preached a sermon to the IEM-K fraternity.
It would seem that the future bishop had everything going for him. He speaks of another protestant pastor Jacob Kitai, who “when he learnt that I was in the seminary, he said, ‘That’s a good choice.’”
Rev Kitai’s affirmation of the young man’s nascent vocation could have been informed by the fact that the farm they called home was bought by 35 members from difference denominations of whom Catholics were a minority. Therefore, “The school we attended was ecumenical and the prayers and songs and even Bible quotations [were] introduced to us by teachers from other denominations, although at home, I was being formed as a Catholic,” the bishop recounts.
Born in Kipchimchim Parish of the then Catholic Diocese of Nakuru that encompassed Baringo, Nakuru, and Kericho, the bishop’s early formation, right from secondary school, had ecumenical underpinnings. “We had YCS [the predominantly Catholic Young Christian Students] and also Christian Union, which is Protestant,” the bishop recalls. The Catholics often invited their protestant schoolmates to join them at Mass.
But it was at the assembly that the best of ecumenism was manifested. “The Christian Union and YCS were allotted time to preach the Word of God, to sing a hymn and lead prayers,” the Bishop says. No wonder his sermon during the launch of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was interspersed with protestant hymns to the delight of the congregation that spontaneously joined in.
Music, the bishop says, is a major vehicle of ecumenism and an entry point to different denominations. He realised during high school that ‘I had some music germs in me’. He would listen to music, “and if it was uplifting, I would enter into the community or the church … I learnt, therefore, that if I was to communicate, music was a powerful tool. It brings harmony.”
The various parishes he served further ingrained his ecumenical inclination. As a priest, he says, he served in Nakuru Cathedral and Baringo. In Kaplong Parish, he says, there was a school of nursing with “an ecumenical presence since “not all students were Catholics, although we [Catholics] were the sponsors.”
Serving in present-day Nakuru County meant that on various occasions, he joined different denominations to pray for county and municipal councils and even the Kimalel Goat Auction, as they accompanied the leadership. The prayers were of necessity ecumenical in nature.
Serving in a predominantly protestant area helped the priest to promote ecumenism. He interacted with the local community at school rallies, with shopkeepers, merchants, and the economic community around Kabarnet. The only petrol station, he recalls, belonged to a protestant businessman. “We had to establish rapport,” he says.
Working in Baringo “was a test because it was 80 per cent AIC [African Inland Church]. Given that the former President Daniel Moi, was AIC, the people rallied behind him.”
The bishop confided that he had learnt the schoolteacher-turned-president once contemplated becoming an AIC pastor. “You can see the thread; even in his leadership he stressed prayer. He established a school that’s guided by Christian values, and a university. As a parish priest, I got to work in those institutions.”
Notwithstanding the historical animosities, the bishop says, his presence helped to seal the gap such that during national days, they were lined up to pray for the nation and its various needs.
The bishop lauds the constitution’s role in fostering ecumenism with schools expected to be open to all religions and denominations. Although institutions like Kapropita Girls and Kabarnet Boys high schools were AIC, he was allowed to minister to the Catholic flock there.
The economy around Kabarnet was chiefly driven by members of the protestant church — the Full Gospel, but mainly AIC. The only petrol station in the area was owned by a businessman, who is from another denomination.
Finally, Bishop Rotich traces the Catholic Church’s ecumenical underpinnings to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) that Pope John XXIII convoked. Paraphrasing the Pope, Bishop Rotich said, time had come to stop calling Christian brothers ‘separated’ and start talking about ‘Christian Unity’, because they all profess Christ, one God in Christ, and one baptism.