Monday, December 29, 2008

An African Priest's Tough Love

Laurie Goodstein's touching article about the four-year pastorate in Oak Grove, Kentucky of a Roman Catholic priest from Kenya, Rev. Chrispin Oneko. In his prior ministry, people had evidently not felt as sorry for themselves:

He confessed that he had an easier time relating to white Americans than African-Americans because he did not understand why blacks carried such resentments toward the United States.

“Their ancestors are long gone,” he said. “They are bitter for I don’t know what.”

He has little tolerance for what he sees as unnecessary self-pity. When an unemployed Vietnam veteran told him he blamed his war experience for his poverty, Father Oneko said he told him: “I blame you, because military people have so many opportunities. You are getting some pension from the government, so you should not complain.

“There are some poor people, poorer than you, somewhere, in Africa, in Jamaica,” Father Oneko said. “But you, at least you have freedom. You have somewhere to sleep.”
And of course there were the inevitable civics lessons from his devoted laypeople:
“My husband was driving him down 41A and there was a big old statue of Uncle Sam,” said [Marie] Lake, who owns an accounting business and keeps the church’s books. “He thought it was Sam from Sam’s Club wholesale.”

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