afrol News, 7 September - Catholics in Kenya are pressing for the beatification of late Cardinal Maurice Otunga, a process that could end up declaring the popular church leader Kenya's first saint. However, the cardinal only died in 2003, and the Vatican normally does not accept starting a beatification before the presumed saint has been dead for five years.
Born in 1923 in Chebukwa, western Kenya, as the son of a traditional chief, Maurice Otunga was baptised in 1935 and educated by Catholic missionaries. Ordinated bishop in 1960, he rose to the title of archbishop of Nairobi in 1971. Two years later, he was the first Kenyan to be given the office of cardinal.
In Kenya, cardinal Otunga is most remembered for his emphasis on solidarity with the poor, his disgust for material goods and for his successful evangelisation drive. During his years as archbishop, the Catholic church the largest and fast growing church in the country. At his retirement in 1997, he went to live in a house for the elderly poor.
According to 'Catholic World News', Cardinal Otunga had "enjoyed a widespread reputation for holiness," prompting Catholic church leaders in Kenya to call for him to be declared a saint. The current Archbishop of Nairobi Ndingi Mwana'a Nzeki says citizens of the Kenyan capital are now anxious to start the process for beatification of their beloved cardinal.
Thousands of Catholics had turned out for a recent mass marking the third anniversary of Cardinal Otunga's death. They were told that by now, 20,000 people had visited the little chapel in the southern section of Nairobi where the cardinal's remains were first interred. His body was later moved, according to his wish, to be reburied at the Consolata shrine in Nairobi.
Visitors at the late cardinal's tomb have written hundreds of personal testimonies bearing witness to his virtues. "These messages could become evidence when a cause is opened," 'Catholic World News' explains.
While Archbishop Nzeki has expressed his desire to see cardinal Otunga beatified, the Nairobi church leader recognised that normally, the Vatican would require five years to elapse before a cause was opened. "We will consult with the apostolic nuncio about that possibility," the archbishop was quoted as saying. "We know it requires five years after one's death before the process can start, but there have been exceptions."
These exceptions are however very rare. To date, the Vatican has only allowed for two speedy beatification processes to be initiated. The first was for Mother Theresa and the second is the current beatification process of recently deceased Pope John Paul II.
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