Tears as priest leaves Kenya after 51 years

Fr Enrique Rituerto Urrejola

Fr Enrique Rituerto Urrejola in a past interview at Mujwa pro-cathedral church in Meru County. 

Photo credit: Charles Wanyoro | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Fr Enrique, who also served as Central Imenti dean, is proceeding to London where he will mainly concentrate on ecumenical duties.
  • He says though the missionaries first came to Africa, the continent had overtaken Europe in terms of the development of religion.
  • Since he arrived at Mujwa in 1970, Fr Rituerto has served at Tuuru and Nyambene and then briefly went back to his native Spain.


Fr Enrique Rituerto Urrejola looks intently as a little child sheds tears as she recites an emotional poem that moves the faithful at Mujwa Catholic Church in Meru County.

Though it is his farewell mass and the recitation is touching, the facial expression of the usually jovial Consolata missionary priest betrays no emotions.

He admits that if the same had happened 51 years ago when he first set foot in Kenya to embark on an eventful journey of faith, he would have openly shed tears.

But having spent most of his adult life in Meru, the Spaniard has come to identify himself with the local people and is accorded the status of a Njuri Ncheke elder.

“The men in Meru do not cry physically but they cry in the heart. Seeing the girl crying while reading the poem is emotional. I am also emotional but because of travelling here and there, I am able to overcome,” he explains.

London duty

Fr Enrique, who also served as Central Imenti dean, is proceeding to London where he will mainly concentrate on ecumenical duties.

He says though the missionaries first came to Africa, the continent had overtaken Europe in terms of the development of religion.

“I will miss this kind of life. In London life is more difficult because though there is more comfort, the social life is much better here. I have accepted the transfer not with difficulty or sadness or bad feeling as it is part of my vocation to be transferred here and there,” says Fr Enrique.

Since he arrived at Mujwa in 1970, Fr Rituerto has served at Tuuru and Nyambene and then briefly went back to his native Spain.

He returned to Kenya and was posted to Mutuati, then to Maua and finally going back to Mujwa in 2006 where he stayed until last week.

During his stay in Meru, the priest mastered the Meru language and mainly said Mass and communicated with the locals in the language.

Meru Catholic Diocese communication director Peter Mutwiri, who led the farewell Mass gave a glowing tribute to the 77-year-old clergyman.

He noted that Mujwa held a significant place in the history of the Catholic Church in Kenya as it served as the pro-cathedral for Meru Diocese over 100 years ago.

The diocese headquarters was later moved to Meru town.

"The Christians said they will really miss him. He spoke their language, he felt them, and he smelt like a sheep. That is what Pope Francis says, if you are a missionary and you are a priest, smell like your sheep,” said Fr Mutwiri.

“Fr Enrique, despite coming from Spain, he can eat any local food like mukimo and njahi. He was very down-to-earth and very approachable. He has transformed this place and given hope to many families especially the poor by giving scholarships to the poor,” he added. 

Ms Evangeline Kiome, the Imenti Central deanery Catholic Women Association (CWA) chairlady, said the priest championed for women empowerment and ending GBV and sexual violence against women.

“He had extended to us a Sh1.3 million seed capital which now stands at Sh3.9 million. He is dedicated to uniting those who are conflicting and shows special love for the young ones who he says are the future of the church. Fr Enrique also helped us start alternative rite of passage to help in eradicating FGM and we hold seminars for them every December,” she recounts. 

Fr Michael Njue, who served as Fr Enrique’s assistant, said their day usually began at 5:30 am when the two of them said prayers before setting out to say the mass at the historic church.

He interacts with the people and that’s why he was able to learn the culture so fast.

Meru people living with disabilities chairman Mawira Muguongo said it was Fr Enrique who took him to Tuuru children's home where his deformed legs were rehabilitated and was given clutches.

"He has left a big legacy especially in helping the needy. He stood out in helping orphans and the vulnerable and from poor backgrounds especially in education.

“He used to passionately support community policing and would join us in our meetings. He played a key role in fighting illiteracy and didn't want to see kids not being taken to school,” says Mr Muguongo.

Ms Evelyn Kiuria, who was Fr Enrique’s office secretary, said the Spaniard treated all the 29 permanent employees at Mujwa mission and St Eugenia School equally and with respect.

“We feel that we have lost a good employer and we hope the next one will be like him. We are praying that God provides us with an employer like Fr Enrique. He is my first employer and has been my mentor. I saw him as my father after I lost my dad,” she said.

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