From the pulpit to the forests- How a Franciscan Priest is transforming the future of Kakamega Forest.
By Prince Papa
Program Coordinator, Africa
Global Catholic Climate Movement
A priest in Kenya is up in arms against the race to save the country’s only remnant of the rainforest that stretched all across central Africa to the Indian Ocean. This forest, the Kakamega rain forest is at the verge of destruction from the community who depend on it as a source of fuel wood, charcoal and the construction industry. Also the forest is under threat from illegal industrial logging and suspicious forest fires. The forest is a home to hundreds of animals and plant species, and is a source of so many rivers in the Western parts of the country.
Born and raised in Kakamega, Fr. Benedict Ayodi grew fond of the forest and its beauty. The forest provided for him and his friends scenic playgrounds, relaxing ambience and an opportunity to form a relationship with trees, wildlife and the smallest of the creatures found in the forest.
Kakamega is an agricultural area with farmers relying on rain fed small scale agriculture. With time, the Kakamega population has continued to grow, putting lots of pressure on the scarcely available arable land. This has resulted in people clearing parts of the forest both for farming, grazing and settlements.
As the population continues to grow but without corresponding local economic growth offset the current economic needs, the community has been left with no other source of income but to engage in the illegal charcoal burning and logging of timber for sale, both for community and industrial consumption. Poaching of indigenious trees and animal species is also in the rise even though these are banned in Kenya.
Fr. Benedict Ayodi has witnessed all these regressive developments unfold in his community.He is however an unsettled priest. Being a Franciscan catholic friar, he has taken on the footsteps of St. Francis, the patron saint of ecology and animals.He has embarked on the journey of preaching on the urgent need for humanity to reexamine their relationship with nature and his first target is his home area, which hosts Kakamega forest. He has to stand on the pulpit on Sundays and on special occasions, head to the forest for community sensitization and reforestation projects. In some of his forest work you will see him accompanied by his fellow capuchins who have also been ecologically transformed.
For catholics around the world, the season of creation takes place annually between 1st September-4th October. In 2020, Fr. Benedict Ayodi, while working with the Global Catholic Climate Movement as programmes manager for Africa, marked this season through various events including the blessing of domestic animals: cats, dogs, ducks, rabbits among others. In the company of other religious friends, he proceeded inside the Nairobi National park to pray for and bless the wildlife such as lions, giraffes and the birds, an initiative that he is keen on formalizing with the Kenya wildlife service- the government body mandated to take care of the parks in the country.
To ensure that Kakamega forest remains a key focus, he was able to organize an outdoor ecumenical prayer service in Kakamega forest to help people of other faith partake in safeguarding and sustaining the forest. The 2021 Season of Creation will be his other big opportunity to make these events bigger.
Fr. benedict Ayodi also withdraws his inspiration from the 2015 Pope Francis encyclical on care for our common home- Laudato si. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis calls upon everyone living on this planet for an inclusive, open and honest dialogue on how we are shaping the future of our planet and calls on the church and the world to acknowledge the urgency of climate change and join him in a new path towards being real stewards of change. The Global Catholic Climate Movement supports Pope Francis’ call through the Laudato Si Animators Training that can be accessed online.