As the country and the world continue to mourn the death of Kenya’s second President Daniel Arap Moi, the Catholic Church world over is also mourning the passing on of one of its ardent followers Catherine Wangari Giitwa who interacted with beatified blessed Sister Irene Stefani, aka ‘Nyaatha’.
Like former president Moi, Wangari was born in 1924 and surprisingly breathed her last few hours ahead of Mr. Moi while being rushed to Mukurwe-ini sub-county hospital.
That aside both will be rested on Wednesday in respective rural homes; Kabarak in the Rift Valley and Mbari ya Nguura village, Gikondi location in Nyeri county, another coincidence.
According to Wangari’s family she had been suffering from an ordinary fever and on Monday evening took a rest on her bed as she used to. “After an hour or so, my sister went to check on her and discovered she had difficulties breathing,” one of her children Jane Wanjiru said.
“Immediately we hired a vehicle to rush her to hospital but unfortunately she was pronounced dead on arrival,” Wanjiru added.
Gaterina as many in Gikondi and Nyeri knew her was a household name and often journalists from various media houses used to frequent her home in Gikondi in pursuit of credible information on Sister Nyaatha who was beatified in Nyeri and only one step remains before she is declared a Saint.
In a condolence message on behalf of the church, Nyeri Catholic Archdiocesan Postulator Father, Peter Githinji Nyaga termed Catherine’s death not only a loss to her family but to entire Catholic fraternity as she was one of the few witnesses who knew and were taught catechism by Sister Nyaatha.
“Indeed we are very saddened by her death as Catherine was one of the most reliable Sister Irene Stefani’s witnesses. So sad that she will not be with us to celebrate when blessed Sister Stefani is finally declared a saint,” Fr. Githinji eulogized.
Fr. Githinji regretted that following Wangari’s death, only two elderly women remains among the four key witnesses who interacted with blessed Sister Stefani; centenarian Emma Wangechi and 106- year- old Milka Wambura Itundu. The other key witness James Mbuthia died in August 2015 aged 95 just like Wangari.
Wangari was among witnesses who the national and international media interviewed at length before and during Sister Irene’s beatification in Nyeri by Cardinal Polycarp Pengo on 23 May 2015.
When this writer visited her two weeks ago, she was in a jovial mood as she shelled corn by hand. “I have been following the Sunday mass via television and it has just ended,” she said adding as she was unable to walk to a nearby Catholic church due to old age and accompanying ill health, every Sunday she stayed glued to a popular vernacular TV that screen live Mass.
Two months ago the now late Wangari gave an interview to KNA in which she said she admired Sister Irene’s compassion in treating the sick and restoring hope to the villagers who had been struck by plague and other ailments.
“Unfortunately she also contracted the plague and she died soon after,” Wangari said,
adding they were among the last people to see her alive.
“My mother and I were going to visit my father at Parklands where he worked and she told me we had to pass through Irene’s place because she was ailing,” Wangari recalled, adding that since her father knew one of the head nuns of Consolata missionaries, a Sister Margaret who resided at Parklands convent, he would pass the message concerning Sister Irene Stefani’s ailment.
She also disclosed that her mother Clotilda Wambui and herself were among the first villagers to be converted to Catholicism after the arrival of Consolata missionaries in Nyeri. The missionaries settled at Mathari area in the foot of Nyeri hills.
It is these catholic missionaries who taught Wangari’s mother how to bring up children in a Christian way. This help to explain why Mrs. Catherine Giitwa was till death 5 days ago a staunch catholic faithful who has never wavered from the faith throughout her live.
Her journey of faith started after her birth when she was baptized and went through all the rites of a catholic follower. “My mother took me for baptism three days after birth,” said the mother of ten, with two deceased and many grandchildren.
She added that her mother introduced her to Blessed Sister Irene Stefani “Nyaatha” who she repeatedly referred to as “Mwari Irene,” the Kikuyu translation of Sister Irene and they became great friends.
By Kamiri Munyaka