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June 2019
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2012 - 01: A Living Saint?

a column written by James for the SligoWeekender

A living saint is a heavy-laden term which tends to be bandied about all too lightly and liberally. And yet, technically, no-one is beatified or sainted within their lifetime. There are only dead saints. Saints are immortalised in paintings, sculpture, music and stained glass, their halos shimmering through a haze of incense. Saints are hermits or kings, down-and-outs or virgins, and oftentimes societys misfits. But the word saint comes from sanctus, meaning holy.

Is it wrong therefore to question the holiness and saintliness of The Venerable Matt Talbot, an addict, who in order to control his addictions tied himself up in ropes and chains? Nobody can question the faith and devotion of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (the little Flower), even though she died at the tender age of 24, having spent ten years in a Carmelite Closed Order. And even the adored and revered Padre Pio has been only recently exposed as a charlatan, having mutilated himself with carbolic acid in order to fashion those famous bleeding stigmata. Pope John Paul II was undeniably a good man, and one of the most-loved and finest Popes, but the fact that the French nun Sister Marie Simon-Pierre claims Pope John Paul IIcured her of Parkinsons disease after he appeared to her in a dream are perhaps questionable grounds for his beatification? 

Yet in our lifetimes we have all witnessed hundreds, perhaps thousands of ordinary priests, nuns, lay-people performing daily deeds which are beyond good, hands-on work irrefutably worthy of sainthood. Mother Theresa was incontrovertibly the most celebrated of such living saints in our lifetime.

On my eight visits to the Nairobi slums, aside from Sligos Basil Love, there has been one man who has remained a constant. Amidst unremitting scenes of human desolation, this shining personality of exceptional holiness emerged from a living hell. Against the wishes of his family, Samuel Sambuli abandoned his permanent and pensionable post as an accountant and part-time Pastor to found Cheryls Childrens Home in Nairobi, to house, feed and educate rescued AIDS orphans. This selfless, stoic man sacrificed his own interests for the greater good of hundreds, perhaps thousands of homeless orphans who were given a second chance at life and real hope for the future.

Through no fault of their own, these inspirational kids were born into a living hell, but Samuel Sambuli, using his trademark powers of oratory,  gave them direction in life, a sense of belonging, discipline, routine, confidence, self-esteem, positivity, faith, education, shelter, food and love. In July 2011 the Kenya Build team witnessed a visible difference in little Malik after mere hours at Cheryls, as he turned his back on the dangers of street-life. Many of Cheryls Children have progressed to greater things: many are en route. Samuel believed that things dont matter, but people do.
However, as we all know, life is unfair. And so often, we see that, in the words of Billy Joel, only the good die young. Despite Pastor Sambulis faith being firmly built on rock, and suffering and sacrificing way beyond the call of duty, last month his short but full life was cut short by rectal cancer. Younger than me, and with a wife and five kids of his own (the youngest a little 2 year-old called Angel), Samuel was taken way before his time. Samuel Sambulis aura shone, his charisma was infectious, he always sported an unfailing beaming smile, and he possessed the facility to always make others smile. Samuels short model life was an inspiration to others.

For those who say it was his time to go, I ask why the God to whom he was devoted cut him off in his prime, when he had a dependant wife and family, a larger extended family of dependant rescued orphans, when his work was only partially done, and his dream and vision only half-realised. It is up to us all now to try to make sure Sams dreams are fulfilled.
Yes he left his mark, and influenced many, but those little kids who saw him as their first real Dad have now been essentially orphaned twice. Nobody can convince me otherwise  Samuel Sambulis premature death is simply unfair. In my mind, a relative unknown like the late Samuel Sambuli far outshines and upstages many dead supposed saints. I will forever remember Samuel Sambuli as a saint in a living hell. Goodnight, good friend.