By Br John Cassar OFMCap
FLORIANA, AUGUST 8,2023 (CISA)- “Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have shown you are trustworthy in small things; I will trust you with greater; come and join in your master’s happiness.” (Mt 25, 21)
On Wednesday, July 25, 2023, the good Lord called Mgr. Paul Darmanin, Bishop Emeritus of Garissa in Kenya. Thus, the Lord gave him the righteous reward for all the good he has accomplished in his priestly ministry, as Minister Provincial and later as missionary and Bishop of the Garissa diocese in Kenya for 31 years.
Among the many graces I have received from God throughout my life is that of meeting many people. And among them is the person of Bishop Paul Darmanin OFMCap, with whom I have worked and lived with for many years in the Garissa Mission and in recent years here in Malta.
It was on February 3, 1984, that Pope, St. John Paul II, appointed Fr. Paul Darmanin as the first Bishop of the Garissa diocese in Kenya.
Before he was appointed bishop, Mgr. Paul Darmanin was a Provincial of the Maltese Capuchin Brothers. During his six years as a provincial, he not only visited missionaries in Kenya several times but worked hard to strengthen this mission; he encouraged more friars to go and work in the Garissa Mission. The missionaries of those early days still remember and mention, among others, his first visit between August and October 1974 when he wanted to see and share the daily life of missionaries and their difficulties; and he foresaw the prospects for the Church, for the Order, and also for the local people. Then when he finished his six years as a provincial, after a while, he opted to go and participate in the future of the Mission. He wanted to give his share in the development and the building of the local church there.
Mgr. Paul Darmanin dedicated his best years as a missionary and a bishop of the new diocese of Garissa with commitment, determination and courage but above all with great faith. He must have known it wasn’t such an easy mission.
I had known Bishop Paul since I became Capuchin in 1983 and I always followed and read what he wrote about the Garissa Mission. I always had a deep admiration for him. But I got to know him more closely when in 1993 I went on the mission myself and even more so when I worked and lived closer with him in Garissa for long years.
Bishop Paul Darmanin was adorned with uncommon humility, silence, and prudence. Although he was a bishop, he always lived the simple life of a missionary and a Capuchin Franciscan missionary. And that was noticed by all those who met him; everyone confessed the same about him. Not only bishops, priests and religious, but also the civil authorities. The closer I was to him, the more I confirmed this truth. During the years I lived with Bishop Paul, I was lucky enough to accompany him on his various pastoral visits to the diocese to be close to the missionaries. I travelled with him to the most remote parish in the diocese, that of Mandera, located almost a thousand kilometres from Garissa and situated between two international borders; Ethiopia and Somalia. Long journeys never end!
During these trips, Mgr. Darmanin always thought well about what to take with him for the missionaries; not only, but he also kept in mind the needs of the people he would meet along the way; he carried several jerrycans with water so that when we were stopped by someone asking for water, we would have something ready to give him. In the words of Pope Francis, he always “used to have the smell of sheep” because as the Pope said: A good shepherd must carry with him the scent of the flock. He always did so, and thus we knew him!
What has always struck me in Bishop Paul is also his great availability. He was a bishop willing to speak and listen to everyone. He was one who not only had the ability to hear and understand who was speaking to him but also who would put all his attention on the person with whom he was speaking. That’s how you would have considered him at that moment: it seemed that only the person who was in front of him existed in the whole world. These beautiful qualities attracted also the attention and admiration of other Christians and even the Muslims around.
They also called him Baba Askofu (our father, the bishop) because they admired a father’s qualities in him. Bishop Paul was a man of few words; but his few words were considered encouragement and full of wisdom, especially in difficult moments that, in a Mission like Garissa, they never fail and sometimes they would also be frequent! He always kept calm and knew wholeheartedly to do what St. Paul said to Bishop Timothy: “Preach the Word in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke and exhort with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim,4,2).4
During his thirty-two years as bishop of Garissa, Bishop Paul remained a missionary, a Capuchin Franciscan missionary as he always has been. He was instrumental in establishing new parishes and encouraging all charitable projects despite all the difficulties Garissa offered during all those years. Several new schools were opened and other clinics have been added to continue and strengthen the health and education programmes. All this is the fruit of his silent and quiet work and the enthusiasm with which he inspired missionaries and the seriousness with which he managed all funds as many personnel of the Agencies confirmed.
In this spirit, Bishop Paul worked hard to see the establishment of the new diocese of Malindi, a large part of which was the southern part of Garissa. And no better leader could be found than Fr Francis Baldacchino OFMCap who was one of the pioneer missionaries since 1974.
On December 8, 2015, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Bishop Darmanin and Mgr Joe Alessandro OFMCap was appointed his successor.
Dear Bishop Paul, I give you thanks… for the encouragement you have always given to me, for the beautiful and not-so-beautiful moments we lived together (when the Mission was attacked by armed bandits) … for the personal sacrifices you have made to be close to me in the most difficult moments I have passed… and for all those moments you have been there for me. To me, you were not only Bishop but a father, a brother and a friend. You were an inspiration. I feel not only lucky to have lived with you for many years but also privileged. Now that death has separated us I assure you that for my entire life, I will continue to cherish these beautiful memories that we lived together and pray for you.
Until we meet again at the Father’s House, Kwaheri na kuonana…! (We salute you until we see each other again).