“I am needed at home”

Farewell to Fr. Winfried Yego OSB
July 22, 1968 – July 29, 2021

Early in the morning of July 29, 2021, our monasteries learned that the Covid pandemic had gripped Tigoni Abbey in Kenya and that Fr. Winfried needed to be ventilated in the hospital. A few hours later, news of his death arrived.

Through his work as Congregational Secretary from February 2018 to March 1, 2021, he was known and appreciated throughout the Congregation, especially in St. Ottilien. Initially, however, when the request to take on this task reached him in mid-2017, Fr. Winfried was not enthusiastic. As senior pastor of the large urban parish of St Benedict in Nairobi, he had a field of work that suited him perfectly. Being a good monk, he eventually complied, and in the course of time visibly found joy in the task at the House of the Congregation. When the newly elected Abbot John Baptist of Tigoni asked him to be released at the end of 2020 because he wanted to give him an important ministry in Kenya, Fr. Winfried organized a quick handover to his successor and confidently departed for his homeland. He did not want to wait for the possibility of a Covid vaccination in Germany.

Here in St. Ottilien, and also in the other German houses he had visited time and again, the news of his death left many distraught. He was appreciated everywhere as a friendly, gentle and obliging confrere. He was of exquisite courtesy. We work colleagues also noticed his reliability: he came to work punctually and regularly every day and willingly took on all tasks. He was a pillar of stability and calm in our sometimes rather stormy work environment.

His intercultural abilities were extraordinary. He understood us Germans very well: our language, our culture, our strengths and also our quirks. He was able to engage with them and also play with them. This made him a mediator between the worlds. From time to time, he explained to the sometimes ignorant Europeans – always very graciously – how to interpret the speech and actions of African confreres. Thus, he gradually grew into the role of a “Mzee”, a wise old man according to the African tradition.

He took on priestly tasks gladly and very willingly. There the former city pastor could work in a field that he probably saw as his true vocation. In his German sermons there was always an “old African proverb” – sometimes invented by him, I think – with which he entertained and instructed his listeners with a wink.

Abbot John Baptist had appointed him Superior of Nanyuki. The monastery with the beautiful name “Our Lady of Mount Kenya” is better known as the site of “The African Bible on the Ground,” a spiritual Bible trail in a large garden compound. The late Abbot Lambert Dörr once described Nanyuki as the Benedictines’ most original contribution to the mission in Africa. Here Fr. Winfried’s talents would have come to bear: Pastoral attention to the people, clear organization, reliable presence. In this function he had already taken over the representation of the Missionary Benedictines in the worldwide Catholic Biblical Federation.

Things have now turned out differently. The distressed community of Tigoni will have to find other men for these tasks. I am confident that they will succeed, even though this loss is a serious setback.

We have all been reminded that Covid continues to threaten people’s lives. Caution and prevention remain tasks that we must continually remind each other of.

We celebrated a requiem for Fr. Winfried at St. Ottilien on 31 July. In his “Exercises” St. Ignatius, the saint of that day, writes that one should not strive for a long or short life. God, the eternal judge, makes right and completes what is too short in our life. We confess this from the bottom of our hearts. But we will miss you anyway, Mzee Winfried!

— Abbot Jeremias Schröder OSB
Abbot President