When the priest applied ashes to Mercy Kinyanjui’s forehead Ash Wednesday at St. Matthew, Northwood, the act symbolized more than just the start of Lent.
The ashes were a reminder to the 34-year-old Kenyan of the burning down of her parents’ home in Kenya during political unrest. They also represented the strength and support of her Baltimore parish.
“The people here have really supported us,” said Ms. Kinyanjui of Rosedale. “They came together to help my family, but they also came together to pray for peace in Kenya.”
More than 800 people, including a Catholic priest, have perished in Kenya since the Dec. 27 presidential election, and more than 250,000 have been forced from their homes.
Political objectors to President Mwai Kibaki’s re-election claim the contest was rigged.
The parents of Ms. Kinyanjui lost their dwelling to fire during a brutal protest Jan. 1 and have continued to struggle in the subsequent weeks since they became homeless.
After word of the misfortune spread around the parish, other Kenyans who worship at St. Matthew’s organized a special prayer service Feb. 2, attracting a diverse congregation from several area Catholic churches.
Those who attended offered more than prayers for peace. They donated more than $11,000 to help Ms. Kinyanjui’s family start over.
“We wanted to help out,” said Peter Njau of Hamilton, a Kenyan native who also has family struggling to maintain a peaceful existence in the troubled nation. “It’s a tragic situation. Even though we don’t all have a lot to give, we will do what we can.”
Parkville resident Jane Kamau traveled to Kenya Jan. 12 to 26 to tend to family business and witnessed the volatile political situation affecting her homeland.
“I was in central Kenya, which wasn’t experiencing the violence, but the people were affected all the same,” said Ms. Kamau, a St. Matthew parishioner. “The people there sell what they grow all over the country. Because of the violence in the western part of Kenya, the people in my family’s region couldn’t transport their crops.”
Though gratified to see so many native Kenyans and a few U.S. citizens gather to pray for peace and support her fellow parishioner’s family, she wasn’t surprised by the outpouring.
“We’ve always come together when one of us needs help,” Ms. Kamau said. “It wasn’t even a question if we would.”
Another prayer service for peace in Kenya will be held March 9 at 2 p.m. at St. Matthew.