Kenyan bishop visits Valley church, shares faith, culture, needs


By Bruce Walton

bwalton@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The sharing of cultures and ideas with a bridge of faith is something a man of the cloth can only hope to initiate, and something a local priest can happily experience with an old friend.

Bishop Neofitos Kongai of Nyeri and Mount Kenya in Kenya visited his friend and former classmate, the Rev. Joe DiStefano, on Friday to catch up and to speak to the members of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.

“When we cross over and share and experience the faith, then we really see the beauty of both of those that is all over the world,” the bishop said.

After a potluck dinner, they had a service and welcomed Bishop Kongai to their congregation.

Bishop Kongai, the second native-born Kenyan bishop, visited the Mahoning Valley on Friday on Father DiStefano’s invitation for a reunion. The two became friends and classmates attending the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, Mass., in 2001.

Father DiStefano said he also partly owes Bishop Kongai for helping to introduce him to his wife, Stephanie.

During their time at the seminary, their lessons consisted of church history, theology, doctrines and pastoral classes.

“He is someone who is extremely humble, but he has a very strong faith,” Father DiStefano said. “I think he’s a holy person, and I think history will bear that out.”

Bishop Kongai was born in 1970 in the village of Kesengei, in the Nandi district of Kenya. After graduating from high school in 1992, he attended two Kenyan institutions and became a practicing priest in the late 1990s, where he earned the name Neofitos, after a famous Cypriot saint.

After his graduation from the Holy Cross school in 2005, he enrolled in two more institutions before becoming a monk.He eventually became an assistant bishop in 2014 and was unanimously elected as bishop of the newly established Diocese of Nyeri and all of the Mount Kenya region a year later.

Bishop Kongai devotes most of his time to ministering to children and families in need.

He has helped build an Orthodox primary academy (St. Nicholas Academy), a medical clinic (St. Luke) and the Parish Church of St. Anthimos. But he said more work needs to be done.

As a new bishop of a young diocese, Bishop Kongai said they are doing fine, but have many needs, which he wanted to explain while on his visit here in hopes of receiving help, as well as spreading faith.

“We need to put systems in place. We need to build churches. We need to help the poor. We need to educate the needy children who don’t have means of going to school,” he said.

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