Nairobi — Hardly a fortnight after he was named Archbishop of Nairobi, the Most Reverend John Njue has been elevated to the position of Cardinal.
And he becomes only the second Kenyan to be named Cardinal after Maurice Otunga who passed away four years ago. With this new appointment, the second highest in the Catholic Church after the Pope's, Njue automatically becomes the head of the church in Kenya.
A Cardinal who happens to be below the age of 75 sits on the College of Cardinals, which is responsible for the election of a Pope.
Njue, who is the current Chairman of the Kenya Episcopal Conference, had hardly taken over from Archbishop Raphael Ndingi Mwana a'Nzeki, whose retirement was accepted by the Pope a fortnight ago.
In a Press release from the Vatican, through the Apostolic Nuciature, Archbishop Njue will be elevated to the new position on November 24 in the Vatican by the Pope.
The dispatch read: "The Apostolic Nunciature in Kenya (Holy See-Vatican Embassy) presents its compliments to the Editors of Press agencies in Kenya and has the honour to inform them that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in a consistory on 24 November 2007 will elevate His Grace Most Rev John Njue Archbishop of Nairobi as a new Cardinal, Member of the Sacred College of Cardinals," said the dispatch.
And Njue broke into song on receiving news of his elevation. The appointment was unexpected and came as a surprise to him, he said in Nyeri, where he was officiating the launch of a strategic plan for Caritas, a Catholic charity.
"My soul praises the Lord because He has lifted His humble one," he sang moments after Nyeri Archbishop Nichodemus Kirima announced the appointment to the gathering.
Njue said he humbly accepts the position, which the Holy Father, Benedict XVI, bestowed on him to be among the Church Prince (Cardinal).
"For me it was a great shock. It is something I did not expect. But I humbly accept the appointment and will dutifully serve the Church, since God has had a mission in me since I walked out of my mother's house and became a priest in 1973," Njue said.
He added: "It was like a bombshell and in the spirit of obedience, I am ready to carry the cross and I know my Lord Jesus Christ will help me through"
The news of his appointment came as he was gracing the launch of the Caritas-Nyeri five-year strategic plan at Mathari Development Centre.
He was among the 23 new cardinals appointed by the Pope.
And for a while the priests who had been invited for the function could not hold their tears of joy as they broke into song and dance.
Over 100 priests who had come for the launch, sung out loud Salve Regina! Salve Regina, which means Hail Holy Queen, which is a prayer in honour of the Virgin Mary, considered by Catholics as the mother of the church.
In an interview with The Standard, Njue said his mother had a lot to do with his calling and was his mentor.
"My mother who passed away last year, was the pillar of my vocation and I thank her for bringing me up in a godly way. That is why, when she died, it really affected me and I thank God for her life," he said.
Njue was ordained a priest in 1973, aged 29 and posted to Kariokoma Parish in Meru South. He later became a lecturer at Mabanga Seminary in Bungoma in 1975, where he was promoted to head the college as rector in 1982.
Later in 1983, he became the first African parish priest in Chuka and two years later he was transferred to St Joseph's Seminary in Nairobi where he was a lecturer.
In 1986, he became the first bishop of Embu Diocese where he worked for 16 years before he was transferred to Nyeri as the coadjutor.
Meanwhile, President Kibaki has sent a congratulatory message to Archbishop John Njue following his appointment as Kenya's second ever Cardinal.
In his message, President Kibaki said by appointing Archbishop Njue Cardinal, Pope Benedict has expressed confidence in his abilities, adding that the appointment is a special calling.
Said the President, "With your wealth of knowledge in divinities, your energy and drive and above all your faith in God, I am confident you are equal to the task."
ODM presidential candidate, Mr Raila Odinga, also sent a congratulatory message to Archbishop Njue.
Raila said the appointment to the second highest office in the Roman Catholic hierarchy has shown the reaffirmed integrity of the Cardinal Njue and the strength of Catholic Church in Kenya.
Additional reports by Evelyne Ogutu, Francis Ngigi and PPS.