Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Beatification of Sister Irene Stefani Nyaatha

This weekend there was a large celebration in Nyeri for the beatification of Sister Irene Stefani Nyaatha.  A beatification is a ceremony marking the second step to sainthood.  Sister Irene was an Italian sister who came to Nyeri in 1915 at the age of 24.  She served as a nurse in the hospitals, taught catechism, and did outreach in the community.  She died at the age of just 39 caring for people during a plague in 1930.  In order to be considered for sainthood there must be miracles attributed to the person.  In Mozambique there was a group of people who took refuge in a church during a local conflict and they had run out of water.  They prayed to Sister Irene for water and the baptismal font filled for three days with enough water for all of the people.  A baby was even born during that time and was able to be baptized in the water.

This event was a huge deal because it is the first beatification to ever take place in Africa.  Usually these ceremonies occur in Rome, but because this is where Sister Irene practiced and died it was decided that the beatification would take place here.  While I'm not Catholic, I find it an incredible opportunity to witness something so historic and so important to the people here.  Not only did the celebration happen here in Nyeri, the mass was held on St. Mary's campus this morning.  Thousands and thousands of people poured into the front gates and Sister Irene's remains were processed from a church in town out to the school.  She will be buried here later this week.

The crowds beginning to gather before the mass began
Signs from the processional
Procession of brothers, priests, and bishops
Procession of brothers, priests, and bishops
Our group with Stephen in the middle.  He graduated from St Mary's two years ago and now works at the school
The opening procession

Panoramic view of the crowds

After the crowds had somewhat dispersed Brother Francis loaded us into the school van and took us for a tour of the surrounding area.  Our first stop was the Treetops Resort we went to on Friday.  I found out today that not only was this the place where Queen Elizabeth learned that her father had died and she would become queen, but it was also the last home of Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell.  He had a cottage built here in Nyeri on the grounds of the resort and lived her until his death in 1941.  

Large bamboo tree on the resort property
Me, in the bamboo tree
After the resort we went to a building dedicated to scouting on the grounds of a cemetery where many British nationals were buried, including Robert Baden-Powell and his wife.  

We then climbed back into the van and headed out to the Italian War Memorial Church.  It was built by the Italian government to memorialize prisoners brought to Kenya by the British during World War II and serves as a catacombs for many African soldiers.  It is also the place where Queen Elizabeth was coronated in 1953.  

As you can see from the above picture we had a bit of car troubles when leaving the memorial.  Despite this, we climbed high into Nyeri Hill on dirt and rock roads to glimpse fantastic views of the valley below.  The land here is incredibly lush and feels nearly untouched.  The roadside on the trip up was spotted with dancing children, goats and cows, and men and women carrying loads of all kinds.  

A waterfall in the distance

Today was quite a busy day and I'm looking forward to tomorrow.  We'll finally be getting into our official work with the boys.  From what I understand we'll be helping with home and school visits, so I'm eager to put my social work skills and knowledge to use.

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