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Catholic bishop to be buried at Holy Family Basilica

Had Archbishop Emeritus John Njenga not indicated his wish to be buried in Nairobi, his remains would have been interred in Mombasa, the archdiocese he led for 17 years.

On Tuesday, he will be the first person to be laid to rest at a special place created recently at the Holy Family Minor Basilica in Nairobi, according to Fr Willybard Lagho, the vicar-general of the Catholic Archdiocese of Mombasa.

He cannot be buried inside the Holy Family Cathedral as it happened with Bishop Cornelius Korir who was buried inside the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Eldoret in November 2017.


Fr Lagho explained that a bishop is only buried inside a church if he dies while in office.

Archbishop Njenga retired in 2005 as the archbishop of Mombasa. As such, his burial site will be a crypt — a room under the floor of a church where bodies are buried — at the Holy Family Basilica. Fr Lagho said the crypt is outside the cathedral, but within the building’s compound.

“The special crypt was constructed a few years ago by the clergy of Nairobi, who wanted to have special graves for bishops,” he said. “It has several spaces for the burial of bishops and archbishops and even a cardinal. He happens to be the first to die after the crypt was created.”

Archbishop Njenga could have been the second person to be buried at the cathedral. However, the first bishop of Nairobi, John Joseph McCarthy, was buried in his native country of Ireland, where he moved after his retirement.

Another senior Catholic figure buried in Nairobi archdiocese is Maurice Michael Cardinal Otunga.


The Catholic Mirror, a publication of Kenya’s Catholic Bishops, says Cardinal Otunga was initially buried at St Austin’s Cemetery in Msongari before his remains were exhumed and interred at the Resurrection Gardens in Karen following the commencement of his beatification process.

Burying Archbishop Njenga in Nairobi will be a way of honouring him, Fr Lagho said.

When he was ordained as a priest in February 1957, he made history for being the first indigenous Kenyan to reach that milestone in the entire archdiocese of Nairobi.

“The honour of burying him outside the Basilica is given to him by the Archdiocese of Nairobi led by Cardinal John Njue. In honour of his pioneering as a clergyman who rose to the ranks of an archbishop and who chose to be buried in Nairobi, the fitting place is the Cathedral,” he said.

Archbishop Njenga died aged 90 at Nairobi’s Mater Hospital on November 4. Ahead of his burial on Tuesday, there will be a funeral Mass at the University of Nairobi grounds from 10am. Those who wish to view his body should arrive at the grounds by 7am.

Fr Lagho said that as a matter of tradition, the archbishop will be buried in full bishop’s regalia that includes a mitre (special hat) an alb (robe), a stole (scarf-like clothing), a pallium (a garment that forms a c-shape round the neck), and a shepherd’s stick among other items.