31-05-2021 by Freddie del Curatolo
He spent five years in Kenya, twenty of which were spent saying Mass and helping the faithful in Witu and Kipini, villages between Malindi and Lamu where there is a very high density of Muslims.
There they call him "Father Alleluja", because it is the word he has repeated most often and the only one that all the various peoples with whom he has interacted could understand at once.
In reality, his name is Adolf Poll and he is an Italian priest born in Bolzano.
Father Adolf will return to Italy in the next few days, on the eve of his 81st birthday.
Last Sunday he celebrated his last mass in Witu and said goodbye to the Catholic Diocese of Malindi, where he has been working as a missionary since 2001.
At the time of his departure, he had only two suitcases: some clothes and many gifts from his people, artefacts of all kinds, from ebony statuettes to all sorts of religious objects.
I don't need anything else," he told a journalist from the Standard newspaper who was interviewing him. "What I take with me in abundance are the beautiful memories I have collected here.
In fact, he will take with him the affection of so many people and his nickname, which he was given in Kisii, as hardly anyone spoke English or Swahili, only the local Ekegusii dialect, so to anyone who spoke to him, he would respond with a smiling "Alleluja". Since then his fame has preceded him to every village or church he has attended, from the Masai moors to Mount Kenya, from Malindi to the Tana River delta.
"It is not easy to learn new languages and dialects, especially in places where you don't have a bible written in languages other than Swahili or English," he said, reliving his half-century in Kenya.
Father Alleluja left the Dolomites in December 1968.
He had few alternatives to the shepherd's life that his family would have offered him. So he decided to become a 'pastor of souls', took up the priesthood in 1967 and the following year was ready to accept Africa.
He arrived there by ship, in Mombasa, and after a few months was assigned to the diocese of Kisii, in the Rift Valley.
A mountain man who loved Mount Kenya because it reminded him of the Alps, after 32 years in the heart of Kenya, he was able to reinvent himself in a difficult area, the coastal area of Lamu County, amidst attacks by fundamentalists, banditry and floods.
His verve as a Teutonic Italian has never wavered, and he has been everyone's missionary.
In 20 years, thanks to his efforts, more than 300 students have benefited from sponsorships to go to school and even to be admitted to university. In the parish of Witu, Father Adolf set up a rehabilitation centre for abused women, which currently has 50 girls.
The Italian priest will be remembered for his relentless efforts to ensure that the communities of Witu, Kipini and Mpeketoni have access to clean water. He personally supervised the work on 95 wells for domestic use in villages in that area.
Most of the people he helped were not even Catholic," his assistant priest, Padee Alex Kimbi, told the press. "Witu and Kipini are areas inhabited mainly by our Muslim brothers. Father Adolf was available to everyone, he was never afraid and ventured out to help those in difficulty".
It is no coincidence that in the early 1970s, he risked death several times. Either during an ambush in which the car he was travelling in was riddled with machine-gun fire (he underwent intestinal surgery and was saved), or during a serious car accident on the coastal roads that left him with a slight limp.
The last time, a few years ago, was during evening prayer, when thugs armed with guns stormed the parish asking for money.
"I gave them the offerings that had been collected that day and they left. They did not hurt me at all.
The Diocese of Malindi remembers him because he used to drive his rickety Toyota in a fast lane. He was always in a hurry to get back to his people, possibly with food and other aid.
He will be missed by many, just as he will miss the Kenyan coast, though he will embrace his beloved mountain, in another space and time.
"Death does not frighten me," he admitted, "I am more afraid of losing memories. I can't imagine not remembering the days I spent in the mountains. Both the Alps and Mount Kenya. Standing in the mountains and looking at what God has created still gives me chills."
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