Ancient, Modern Worlds Blend in Kenya Desert

Date: August 5, 1966
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Newspaper: The Tidings
Page: 3

The Primitive and the modern, the aviator and the nomad, blend in perfect contrast in the young Eldoret, Kenya, Diocese.

Aviation is bringing Christianity to remote, previously inaccessible areas in the East African diocese. “Two thirds of it is absolute desert, sitting squarely on the equator where the sun goes through you,” according to Bishop Joseph B. Houlihan.

The desert dwelling nomads who roam its thousands of square miles are the flocks committed to the tender care of this affable, Irish-born Bishop. The pilots of UMATT (United Missionary Air Training and Transport) are their links to the City of God and the City of Man, to Rome and Washington.

Drought Causes Famine

“The planes are linking up all the diocese of East Africa now,” according to Bishop Houlihan. “The Bishops are convinced of the needs of aviation.”

A firm in St. Louis is proviiding the planes, the Bishop said, and the Marianist Brothers are training pilots in Dayton.

An unprecedented famine last year brought about by insufficient rain decimated his already desolate populace, he said.

U.U. government planes brought in food. “We were asked to help distribute the food. We opened a number of famine camps, including one to accomodate 15,000 persons.”

The rains failed again earlier this year, the Bishop added, and this resulted in many more deaths from famine.

UMATT’s five planes have even taken to flying in water from Nairobi, 300 miles to the southeast.

‘Mobile Catechists’ Needed

The desert was, until four years ago, a thechnically closed area, and with good reason. Its freakish and violent wind, rain and sandstorms are a constant threat and the Bishophas known people who have disappeared there.

Such an environment poses a challenge which begs for solution. Since 1954, when he was sent as the area’s first prefect apostolic, the Catholic population has grown more than 50,000 from an original estimate of 13,000.

“What I regard as the most important challenge,” he said, “is catechetics.”

Personnel, or the lack of it, is his greatest problem. Forty-five priests, 50 Sisters and a handful of laymen are not enough too do a thorough job.

What he plans are “mobile catechists,” people to go out into the desert to teach and preach to the nomads. To achieve this means developing and providing visual aid and training in the area’s 20 languages.

It is anything but glamorous work. Of three priests he sent into the desert after is was opened up, two have returned, victims of a hostile climate and alien way of life.

Bishop Houlihan spoke of four Medical Missionary Sisters living in “tin shacks that are like hot ovens.”

Yet despite such overwhelming obstacles he is planting the seeds of Faith in his two-year-old diocese.

Five schools have been built in the past three years. There are now three hospitals in the 50,000 square-mile diocese.

The diocese also shares a seminary with a neighboring diocese.

Bishop Houlihan is a member of St. patrick’s Missionary Society. Its American headquarters are in Camden, N.J.

He is in the Los Angeles archdiocese under the auspices of the Mission Cooperative Plan, to preach in St. Matthias Church, Huntington park, St. Raphael Church and St. Victor Church, Los Angeles.

Scroll to Top