My story begins in a small village at Kawayo in Siaya Courty in Kenya, East Africa. On the 8th November 1964, my late parents Patrick Opiyo and Agnes Awino were blessed with a sixth born child, a baby boy whom they named Ouma. The child was born when the parents were in crisis and the child was not baptized as an infant. Thirteen years later after following catechism for three years, I was baptized, and I chose the name Matthew to mark a new beginning. By now my full names were Matthew Ouma Opiyo that was on the 11th August 1977 and we were confirmed on the 6th December, the following year. From that time on I felt that I was now a member of the family, the Church as St. Paul himself puts it:
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2:19-22 NIV)
Armed with this message of St. Paul, it happened that two years later, after my baptism I went for confession one Thursday afternoon and as the priest was entering the church all the family card records he was carrying on his arm fell and scattered on the floor, I ran towards him to lend a hand, as we were picking the cards he sighed aloud “Lord the harvest is great and the labourers are few, send more labourers to your vineyard.” We had confessions and I left. In the evening the same day at home during our prayer time as a family my mother prayed “Lord you have given me many children call some to work for you.” Two people unrelated were praying for the same mission, I wondered!
Five years later, on a fine Sunday afternoon seated under a tree at school where I was broadening horizon of my ignorance then, those two moments, a sigh of my parish priest and my mother’s prayer memories came back. But I brushed off the thoughts and I went to the shopping center to buy bread. At the shopping center I would meet with a friend of mine whom we had studied together in primary school. He wanted my postal address because by then there were no cell phones, we had pens and no piece of paper to write on. So as we look around for a piece of paper I saw icon of our Lady Consolata. I picked up that icon and put it in my pocket and picked another piece of paper and wrote the postal address to my friend and then we parted. The icon of our Lady resembles the one below.
Back at the dormitory, I read what was written at the back of our Lady’s icon. It was simply written “if you are interested to know more about Consolata write your name and address.” I did exactly that and posted it to the address that was on that icon. Two weeks later I received a letter package, written by the vocation director then with vocation newsletter. After receiving the letter, I was really interested to know how the icon of our Lady reached the shopping centre and there were no Consolata Missionaries working in Nyanza Province by then. Digging deep, I found out that in the same secondary school where I was, there was a boy who was communicating with the Consolata Director of Vocations. When he received the icons, he went and scattered them in the trading centre hopping that some young people would find them. And that is how I met my vocation as a Consolata. Our Lady Consolata was and is my Vocation Directress.
My service was a desire born and strengthened as I served my fellow pupil while in primary school and later as a teen at my home parish and sub-parish respectively, I used to help to provide liturgical and social services for my fellow youth in the sub-parish that is now a full pledge parish. The love of Church music held my vocation in place. So, meeting with our Lady through the Consolata Congregation was just to formalize the service which had already started. Serving my fellow pupils with dignity was at heart. If there is any college where I learned to serve, was at primary school and my home. My mother used to tell us that we should not worry being successful but to be faithful to God. I would hear those words again in 1985 in the Eucharistic Congress Celebration in Nairobi, Kenya, when at Nyayo stadium, a Nun now St. Mother Theresa would uttered similar words I heard from my mother “success belongs to God we are mere servants.” Church choir and Young Christian Student (YCS) play a big role in my vocation as a missionary and priest. Life is a chance given by God to serve our fellow human beings.
On the Eucharistic celebration at Sagana Kenya, thirty years ago, we took our first vows twelve young men. One of us late Rev. Fr. Julius Maina is resting in peace. The rest of us are still working in the vineyard of the Lord. After the novitiate I was given opportunity to answer the questions that were raised during philosophy that I could not answer. But moving on then, I discovered that, the questions will only be answered when the last chapter of my life will be written when we will see God face to face. Like Pilate asking Jesus what is the Truth I have wrestled with the question and Like the Centurion who cried aloud when Holy of Holies curtain was torn apart, one thing do I believe that Jesus is truly the Son of God.
After the scrutiny in theology I was found unworthy but still given a chance and on the 29th July 1995 that chance was formalized, a tittle was prefixed to my name I become Fr. Matthew Ouma Opiyo. The prefixed tittle of “father” that I received had a memory in my mind of the Last Supper coded on it that is, breaking of the bread and raising of the cup and washing of the feet of the disciple. As people were dancing and rejoicing, I was wondering if they understood. Their being there and celebrating with us was supportive moment of course. But as a family we understood we were entering into to a mystery. My mother attended my ordination when she was sick and throughout the ordination that lasted for four hours was a torture, but she persevered to the end may her soul rest in eternal peace. Her being there in the ordination when sick reminded me the mystery that a mother goes through and it reminds me of Our Mother Blessed Virgin Mary standing at the foot of the cross. Since my father was seated next to her, I had courage to concentrate on the mystery of ordination. May Almighty God rest his soul in eternal peace too!
Celebrating 25 years of service as a Catholic Consolata Missionary priest is not just for me but for the Consolata Congregation and all the communities where I have served as well. I surely underestimated God’s love; I didn’t anticipate his intervention to help me understand His love. I remember a year after my ordination when I had a car accident, I was almost pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, when I regained my consciousness I could not believe my ears when the police at the scene of the accident were request somebody to help them with a pick-up to drop the corpse to the morgue. That corpse was me! Again, five years ago when I was diagnosed with fourth degree cancer of the colon and myeloma cancer, I thought the time was up, but God still hold my hand and I walked again. As I was wheeled to the operation room for the colon cancer, I asked the doctor jokingly: what are the chances? He replied, “it is difficult to tell 50, 50” and I interjected even God does not know and we laughed. Even though I did not understand the love of God, I was not discouraged but I felt strengthened and much more encouraged to discover his mysterious hand working in my life. To all these and other numerous times thank You, Lord for sticking with me.
Our lives can get overwhelming, daunting, and hard. We can easily get discouraged, frustrated, and burned out by circumstances or relationships that are beyond our control. In those times where we are feeling hopeless and helpless, the best thing we can do is turn away from the challenges and turn toward Christ. When we remember that God is in control and our lives are not our own, we remember we have a Saviour who gives us strength when we are weak and who comforts us in all our times of need.
The journey of service has been long and daunting but in the name of the Lord I say thank you to the Almighty God who was, is and will ever be for His love for a sinner like myself who was given a chance to grow in faith. He has stood by me as I offer His services, His love is invaluable. When I contradicted the service, our Lord reminded me as He reminded the woman who was caught red-handed and brought to Him that go and do not sin again. The Lord knows that am not worthy, but He has all along hold my hand and I am waiting for the day I will see him face to face.
Among other things a missionary priest is to take consolation Jesus Christ to people and therefore, Like John the Baptist I was supposed to show the people the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world through service. Did I do it for the last twenty-five years, I am not so sure, but I understood that priesthood stood at the culmination of the old self and emphatically pointed to the new self through baptism. A new self is born in Christ through the service to His people. With Baptism renewed, a missionary like John the Baptist draws back the curtain on all that the previous life longed to see. By ordination, a new birth has taken place. A missionary priest is to herald a new era, the final journey of man towards God’s Kingdom. When a missionary priest points to Christ he needs to step back, and if he manages through the help of the Holy Spirit to step back the old self yield to the new, Christ grows, and he deceases. There is part of us that would like to grow and be praised but, in those moments, I remember the phrase “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” In ordination one era is ending, another is beginning. For the past twenty-five years I wrestled with this reality. A great and dramatic moment in this “old giving way to the new” occurs when giving homilies at the sacrifice of the Holy Mass and meeting with the needy. Here I tried to marry our Chrism, as Consolata Missionaries and the Gospel. Have I succeeded? No, I was not supposed to, but I remained faithful, trying again and again.