Archbishop Boniface Lele who died 12 days ago will be buried in a historic ceremony that is expected to draw a crowd of 10,000 people.
After a requiem mass today from 10am at Loreto Primary School in Mombasa, there will be a procession to escort the late prelate to the Holy Ghost Cathedral where he will be buried in a grotto (small cave) dug out from the wall of a coral quarry within the church compound. Monday, masons for the second day running were excavating the grotto reminiscent of Jesus Christ’s tomb.
“This is a unique burial because there will be no grave. His remains will be fitted into the grotto and permanently sealed. There will be plaque showing details of the deceased,” he said.
The grave-side ceremony will be conducted by Catholic bishops led by Cardinal John Njue and witnessed by family members, select dignitaries and only eight journalists to cover the events.
“Due to the huge crowds expected here, we have made arrangements to beam the events onto several screens,” said Fr Lagho.
Apart from the 500 people expected from his Kitui home, others are 35 inter-faith religious leaders, 50 dignitaries and more than 300 priests and nuns.
Described as simple and gentle, the soft-spoken Lele touched many with a humility that saw him at times give out all he had to the needy.
In last Saturday Nation’s “Different Strokes” column, Fr Gabriel Dolan described him as the Bishop with the “fifty-bob” legacy because when his colleague Nicky searched the late prelate’s wallet for his ID card to acquire a burial permit, he found only a Sh50 note.
“Born into poverty, Bishop Lele died a poor man too: no overseas accounts, no profit making plazas, no property that his family will quarrel over,” wrote Fr Dolan.
The deceased never fell prey to the trappings of power and his approachable demeanour and unpretentious nature was a rarity among public figures.
According to Fr Dolan, that was typical of a man who would dispatch his monthly stipend by M-Pesa to help those in need of medical care, school fees and seeds to plant.
Archbishop Lele was installed fourth Archdiocese of Mombasa on June 25, 2005 after retired Archbishop John Njenga (1988-2005), the late Archbishop Nicodemus Kirima (1978-1988) and the late Bishop Eugene Butler (1957-1978).
He was born on February 14, 1947 at Kyangwithya, Kitui.
He is the son of the late Martin Lele and the late Monica Muthembwa Lele, brother of Benjamin Mwalii, the late Benedict Makau, the late Christopher Mulwa, Alexander Ngonge, and Margaret Mitau.
He attended Ithookwe DEB Primary School 1-4; Mulutu Intermediate School, 5-8 and St. Charles Lwanga Secondary School, Kitui. In 1969, he joined St. Thomas Aquinas Senior Seminary, Nairobi.
On 8th December 1974, he was ordained into the priesthood together with Fr Peter Muema as the first indigenous priests for the diocese.
As a priest of Kitui, he worked in Mutito, Kabati, Cathedral and Mutune parishes and also served as Education Secretary, Vocations Director and Pastoral Coordinator in the Diocese of Kitui.
He went for Postgraduate studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome for Spiritual Theology during 1979-1981.
Archbishop Lele was appointed General Spiritual Director and lecturer at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, Nairobi between 1981 and 1984. Among his students then were Bishop Cornelius Korir, Bishop Joseph Mairura, Bishop Peter Kihara, Bishop Norman Kingóo, and Bishop Phillip Anyolo.
As Archbishop of Mombasa, the Church in Mombasa grew under his leadership. From 40 parishes, he opened nine new parishes and reopened two dormant ones, bringing to 51 the total number of parishes to date. The new parishes include: Bangaldesh, Customs-Nyali, Kaloleni, Kikoneni, Kitumbi, Lungalunga, Maungu, Migombani and Mtwapa. The two that he reopened are Bamba and Ndavaya.
Archbishop Lele took part in all kinds of activities of the archdiocese. He was very instrumental in trying to combine the women groups: Mt. Anna & Mt. Monica into one as Catholic Women.
He also was a strong supporter of the Men’s Association, always finding time to be with them during their activities.
He came up with the idea of the Young Catholic Adults stating that there is need to differentiate senior youth from the junior youth as they have different goals in life. He started a group to help Widows and Widowers in the archdiocese.
“Marriage Encounter blossomed in our archdiocese under his watch. Couples for Christ is another society that started its roots in Mombasa after his intervention,” says faithful in the archdiocese.
Archbishop Lele was an ardent Focolare Member and would always make time for the Focolare Bishops meetings wherever they would be held in the world.
Owing to his compassionate nature; Archbishop Lele started Mahali Pa Usalama: a rehabilitation and rescue centre for children who are trafficked.
He initiated a project that takes care of prostitutes; and Tsavo Children’s Village for orphans and vulnerable children.
He has left on the ground a working project on the establishment of a Hospital at Likoni area with some Italian Doctors.
Archbishop Lele was very aware of the different Christian denominations here and was very supportive of the Christian Week of Unity.
He was a board member of the Coast Inter-Cleric Council Trust.
He would speak out for what he believed in, and defend the rights of the human being at all costs; releasing lots of press statement to back him up.
Archbishop Lele was a true symbol of compassion and humility. He would give all he had for the sake of the other.
He would lead from the front; putting other peoples interests first! On 1st November, 2013; the Holy See accepted and granted the resignation of Archbishop Lele on medical grounds.
Following his resignation; Archbishop Emeritus Lele has been residing at the Apostle’s Villa, Changamwe Parish.
He took ill and was admitted with low pressure on Friday 4th April, 2014, at Mombasa Hospital.
He suffered a cardiac arrest on Saturday and Tuesday while in ICU.
Archbishop Emeritus Lele passed away on April 9, 2014.