Anyolo picked to succeed Njue as Nairobi’s Primate

Friday, October 29th, 2021 00:00 |
John Cardinal Njue with Archbishop Phillip Anyolo at a past function. Photo/File

Kisumu Catholic Archbishop Philip Anyolo was yesterday thrust into the church’s leadership matrix after being appointed to head the Nairobi Archdiocese.

In a communique from Rome, Pope Francis picked Anyolo, 65, to become the new Archbishop of Nairobi, succeeding John Cardinal Njue who resigned in January after attaining retirement age.

Anyolo, who was born on May 18, 1956, in Tongaren, Bungoma county, is one of the three Catholic archbishops in Kenya.

Others are Anthony Muheria of Nyeri and Martin Kivuva Musonde of Mombasa. 

The church has four metropolitans dioceses headed by archbishops in Kenya:  Nairobi, Nyeri, Kisumu and Mombasa.  

Anyolo’s transfer to Nairobi leaves Kisumu without an archbishop, a situation that will trigger the promotion of one of the serving bishops to the position of archbishop and subsequent transfer to Kisumu.

Njue’s retirement

The Rev David Kamau, the Nairobi Auxiliary Bishop, was appointed the Apostolic Administrator of the Nairobi Archdiocese upon Njue’s retirement.

In his message of congratulations, Deputy President William Ruto tweeted; “Best wishes Archbishop Phillip Anyolo on your appointment as the head of the Catholic Archdiocese of Nairobi.

We are proud of this achievement and commit to continue working together to better the lives of our people.”

Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga also sent his message of congratulations to the archbishop, terming him a diligent servant of the church.

“Congratulations, the Most Rev Philip Anyolo on your appointment as the fifth Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Nairobi.

You’ve diligently and selflessly served the church through the years since ordainment as a priest in 1983.” 

Among the current archbishops, Kivuva is the oldest at 69, followed by Anyolo (65) and Muheria the youngest at 58 years.  

Even though interpreted as normal, Anyolo’s new posting places him in pole position to succeed Njue as a cardinal retires at 80 years.  

This is supported by historical trends in the Catholic Church in Kenya. Still Anyolo can be appointed to the position of cardinal even when there is another cardinal in the country if Rome so desires.

Detailed process

Historically, previous holders of the cardinal’s office in Kenya have been picked from the Archdiocese of Nairobi.

Maurice Cardinal Otunga was the first cardinal in the Nairobi Archdiocese in 1973 and his successor Njue was elevated to the ranks of cardinal in 2007.

Equally, Nairobi archdiocese is viewed as the headquarters of the Catholic Church in the country.  

“It is the prerogative of the Pope to rotate his servants. This is not a leadership position that is campaigned for.

The Pope always has what he checks before he makes any appointment from his servants.

We appreciate his choice and vow to support the same for the growth of our church,” said Bishop Peter Kihara Kariuki of Marsabit Catholic diocese.

He added: “In case the pontiff wants the title of the cardinal to continue being in Nairobi, he can do so. Though, mostly, cardinals are picked from serving archbishops.”

Kihara, who was Anyolo’s classmate in the seminary, explained that any appointment by the Pope in any segment of the church globally is normally a detailed process which is executed from his Rome office.  

“No campaigning is done nor the one to be appointed consulted. However, the Pope has a representative locally who is consulted on any servant being targeted. How the choice of the appointee is arrived at only the Rome office knows,” he added.

The position of cardinal is an office in Rome though the holder can serve in a country or in Rome.

“Cardinals are normally the owners of the Catholic church as they are the ones who elect a new pope,” said the Rev Fr Dr James Kabata, the Principal in charge of Consolata Institute of Philosophy in Nairobi.

He stated that the prelate could have been picked owing to what the Church refers to as quality leadership and experience.

“He has remained true to the Catholic work in the country. Archbishop Anyolo is an experienced man of great peace and listens a lot. Further, in all the Catholic dioceses he has served, it has never been implicated in a controversial issue,” said  Kabata.

He added that Anyolo’s appointment, coming less than a year to the country’s general elections, will help in uniting Kenyans.  

Anyolo was one of the church leaders who recently offered to broker a truce between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy Ruto.

Though not known to be vocal in the political arena, Labata noted that Anyolo will play a key role in giving an opinion over the country’s future.    

News of Archbishop Anyolo’s appointment was officially published in L’Osservatore Romano in Rome at 12pm Rome time (1pm Kenyan time) yesterday.

The Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya and South Sudan, Archbishop Bert Van Megen, also sent an official communication to the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

Past positions

Anyolo has previously served as chairman of KCCB from October 2013 until May 2021.

He was ordained a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Eldoret in 1983.

Pope John Paul II appointed him Bishop of Kericho on December 6, 1995 and was consecrated as Bishop of Kericho on February 3, 1996.

On February 20, 2002, Pope John Paul II appointed him Apostolic Administrator of Homa Bay upon the resignation of Rt Rev Linus Okok Okwach.

He was appointed Bishop of Homa Bay on March 22, 2003. On November 15, 2018, Anyolo was appointed the Archbishop of Kisumu and installed on January 16, 2019.

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