When the Priest Doesn’t Look Like Us

Meet Father George Komo, a Kenyan priest who’s been serving in our diocese for a handful of years. We’ve wanted to introduce him for some time now, and we’re motivated after reading Simcha Fisher’s latest post at the National Catholic Register. If you haven’t yet read it, check it out, but please come back (pretty please?).

Fr. George and Lucy

Father George has had a special influence on our family, especially our daughter Lucy. The man flat-out leaks joy, kind of like Lucy. They get one other that way. In a few months, Father George will leave behind the life as a parish priest and enlist in the Armed Services, on loan to the Archdiocese for the Military Services as a chaplain. He always seemed a bit miscast as a parish priest. He’s a little outside the box: not particularly a keeper of schedules, prefers to walk most places, and doesn’t even own a cell phone. The other thing is he struggles to understand the petty first-world squabbles that characterize much of parish life.

We can’t help but wonder if somehow we ran him off. Not we as in just us Schmidts, but we as in first-world Catholics who may very well be just a little too used to getting exactly what we want. We want our priests to be a reflection of us, to believe what we believe regardless if it’s what the Church teaches.

We don’t want to be challenged by someone who looks different, whose life experiences may challenge us to look at ours through a different lens … revealing that the stuff we’re surrounded by has little spiritual significance and none of us has the market cornered on holiness. Maybe we just don’t want to be challenged by a 15-minute homily delivered through an accent that may actually force us to pay attention. After reading the following in Simcha’s post, we couldn’t help but think of Father George.

“I realized, with a small shock, that some members of the congregation probably had complained about the Ugandan priest — said they couldn’t understand him, or that he wasn’t doing things in exactly the way they were accustomed to seeing them done.”

Okay, so Father George is Kenyan, not Ugandan, but you get the point. He is a square peg in a western culture littered with round holes and doesn’t naturally fit anywhere. For starters, the man speaks fifteen languages. FIFTEEN! Growing up in Kenya, he used to walk six miles each way to Mass. Not allowed to be late, he often found himself running to Mass — he is Kenyan after all. And if he missed his Sunday obligation? Well, then his grandma enforced a Seinfeld Soup Nazi like “no food for you!” policy. That’s right, he wasn’t allowed to eat.

This is a man who used to sacrifice for the Eucharist in a way most of us can’t comprehend, and as such we fear we haven’t been able to comprehend him. He has come halfway around the world to serve us. Yes us. We don’t want to accept the fact that we are mission territory. It feels condescending … it’s too much for us to bear.

As much as the soldiers need a Catholic priest in their midst, we sure hope Father George comes back here to Des Moines one day. Maybe the soldiers will “get” him better. After all, they probably need him more than we do; soldiers know something about sacrifice. We’ve heard stories that some go months without the Eucharist for lack of Catholic chaplains, so perhaps this is all working out the way it’s supposed to. But it still somehow feels a bit wrong.

We need more priests in our diocese, and we’re getting them from parts of the world that are brimming with vocations. Priests like Father Adibe, Father Agwuoke, Father Lazarus, Father Paul Hung, Father Joy, and many others. If we didn’t get it right with Father George, something tells us we’ll have plenty of opportunities to try again and do better with these priests.

Godspeed Father George. A little girl named Lucy is praying for you every night.

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  1. says

    Lisa this is a wonderful post! Father George has become a special friend to our family – especially our kids. He has an amazing ability to connect with children like nothing I´ve ever seen. He will be sorely missed.

  2. says

    I have been ´following´ you (which sounds so much like stalking, thanks Facebook) for a while without commenting. But I absolutely love this. Being an Army wife, I have had the privilege of meeting many priests from all over the world. It is so true that often times we (military and civilian) under-appreciate them. They have so much love for Christ, and we have so much to learn from them. It sounds like, yet again, AMS is blessed to be receiving another wonderful priest! Prayers for him as he enters this crazy thing we call the military life.

  3. says

    LOL! We have a lot of priest come through our parish from Africa. They are the best! Good luck in the Army, Fr Komo! PS I live in a US Navy town. We have plenty of Marine and Navy chaplains coming to serve Mass with us!


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