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An Immaculate Conception for the ages unfolds under Kenyan acacia tree

LODWAR/KALOPIRIA, KENYA – When you’re a reporter covering the Catholic Church, you end up going to more than your fair share of Masses. After a while, you tend to think you’ve seen it all.

Yet on Friday in the remote northern Kenya village of Kalopiria, I was jarred out of that complacency by watching two remarkable priests celebrate the most stunning liturgy I’ve ever seen – in part for its setting, in part for its people, and in part because it was the closest I’ll probably ever come to knowing what it was like for St. Isaac Jogues, St. Francis Xavier, St. Junipero Serra, and the other great missionaries to carry the Gospel to people who’ve never, ever heard it before.

My Crux colleague Inés San Martín and I are in Kenya this week, trying to capture something of the wild diversity of Catholic life here. It’s a trip sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need, a papal foundation that supports the suffering and persecuted church around the world, and which funds multiple projects up and down the country.

This Thursday and Friday, we were in Lodwar, a city of roughly 50,000 that forms the heart of the Turkana region of Kenya, infamous as the country’s most isolated, under-developed, and chronically poor area. It ranks 47th out of Kenya’s 47 counties on virtually every index of development, including per-capita income, share of the population in extreme poverty, access to safe drinking water, and so on.

The Turkana ethnic group is made up largely of pastoralists, meaning nomads who follow their sheep, goats and cattle seasonally in search of grazing lands. They’re among the most isolated peoples in the world, in part because the region was a restricted zone during the British colonial era in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Turkana have had almost no contact with the outside world, and for most of Kenya’s history, they’ve been ignored and forgotten by their fellow Kenyans and everyone else.


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