Wednesday, August 24, 2005

A speech I once gave

In July of 2001, I was asked to speak on behalf of our family at a symposium, sponsored by Kenyans living in Minnesota, for John. Sen. Paul Wellstone, who was a strong advocate for our family in seeing the truth be told regarding John's death, also appeared.

Following is the speech I gave at this occasion:

Good afternoon. I am the niece of Fr. John Kaiser.

I thank you for inviting me to speak today. I consider it an honor and a privilege to talk about John, a man who touched thousands of lives in ways I'll never fully know. But I hope I can explain to those of you who may not be familiar with him exactly why we are all so devoted to our fight for justice -- both in John's death and in his life.

John was a Mill Hill missionary.

What is a missionary? He is a person who loves God and consequently his fellow man so much that he will leave his country, his home, his family to do the work of the Lord where the need is greatest.

That is what my uncle, Fr. John Kaiser, was.

He worked among the Kenyans of East Africa for 36 years -- nearly my entire life -- and for 26 years with the Kisii, celebrating the sacramental life of the church, preaching and teaching.

A missionary is a practical person. With his own hands John built churches, schools, maternity hospitals, cisterns and wells. He was a farmer who taught better agricultural practices. A hunter who kept his people fed.

Trouble was brewing in the early 90s as a corrupt and cruel government was displacing the Kikuu tribe and grabbing their fertile land. John volunteered to be their chaplain at the Maela refugee camp.

The conditions were horrible and John spoke out against three cabinet members who were responsible for the land grabbing.

Twice he was arrested, beaten and released.

The third time after being arrested and beaten, he was taken far into the bush and was left to be the food of lions and jackals. He walked to safety with only a heavy stick and a strong guardian angel.

John had spoken out against the corrupt and powerful and his days were numbered.

To protect him, the Bishop sent him to Llolgorien, a far outpost overlooking the Serengeti and Rift Valley to work among the Masaii.

Unfortunately, peace was short lived.

Government troops pillaged and murdered and blamed it on tribal clashes.

Again John spoke out. He received death threats. He was pursued and hounded. His house would be surrounded at night, his windows broken with rocks.

On August 24, 2000, he was killed. A Mill Hill missionary was now a martyr. In the Daily Nation, a Kenyan newspaper, it was reported that Andrew Kimetto, a police commander, stated that John was told to kneel, say his last prayers and was shot in the back of the head. When questioned how he knew this, he said he had ways of getting this information.

And yet, the FBI reports that John's death was consistent with a suicide. To anyone who knew John, that is a totally unacceptable answer.

As a family, we constantly receive reports from people saying they know who was responsible for John's death, but cannot tell for fear of their own lives. Without their help, we are struggling to convince the Attorney General and the Secretary of State to reject the FBI report and clear John's character and bring about true justice.

Many of the Kenyans here today know the struggles John faced in his fight for human rights. Some of you may be familiar with the award he received from the Kenyan Law Society a few months before his murder.

The award, for the distinguished service in the promotion of human rights, was a rare departure from tradition in that John was the only recipient.

The award, which I show you, stated John's unshakable commitment to truth and justice was both his gift and his burden. To quote from the statement in support of the award, "The life and times of Fr. John Anthony Kaiser stand out as a study in courage, determination and sacrifice on behalf of the weak, the oppressed and down-trodden. He does not consider himself a civil rights worker. He would not call himself a human rights activist let alone its champion. He would not admit to all his achievements which have emboldened and inspired many to love truth, cherish liberty and fight for human rights. Father Kaiser says he is just a simple parish priest. We agree. And we honor him."

We love you and miss you, John. Watch over us as we continue what you so wonderfully started.

Thank you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful picture Mary painted of her Uncle John. I have a piece of the blue shirt he always wore, a gift from Fr. John's sister, Carolita. I treasure it and am happy to have Mary in my life, as a darling daughter-in-law. JBW