Despite security concerns, Pope Francis arrived in Nairobi, Kenya on Wednesday to begin a 6-day pilgrimage that will also take him to Uganda and, then conclude his African journey with a visit to the Central African Republic.The persistent violence in the Central African Republic has raised questions about the security of the papal visit, and even as he arrived in Africa some observers questioned whether the visit could be abbreviated.
He urged Kenyans to work for peace and reconciliation amid violence in the African nations wracked by fighting between Christians and Muslims that even threatened to disrupt his trip.
“Experience shows that violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust and the despair born of poverty and frustration," he said. “To the extent that our societies experience divisions — whether ethnic, religious or economic — all men and women of good will are called to work for reconciliation and peace, forgiveness and healing."
The Pope was received at the Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by a small group of dancers and singers. After the brief welcoming ceremony at the airport, the Pope travelled past hundreds of offices and factories where employees came out and lined the road to greet him, he was formally greeted by President Uhuru Kenyatta, civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps at Kenya’s State House.
Addressing the Kenyans, the Pope spoke about the need for African leaders to encourage young people and promote responsible models of economic development.
“Kenya has been blessed not only with immense beauty in its mountains, rivers and lakes, its forests, savannahs and semi-deserts, but also by an abundance of natural resources," the Pope said.
Having remarked on the extraordinary beauty of Kenya, he added: “The grave environmental crisis facing our world demands an ever greater sensitivity to the relationship between human beings and nature.
Pope Francis earned resounding applause from the crowd when he concluded his remarks with a single sentence in Swahili: “God bless Kenya!"
Francis urged Kenya’s political, social and economic leaders to work with “integrity and transparency” for the common good, a clear reference to Kenya’s poor record with corruption. He reminded them that the gospel insists that “from those to whom much is giving, much will be expected"
“I ask you in particular to show genuine concern for the needs of the poor, the aspirations of the young, and a just distribution of the natural and human resources with which the Creator has blessed your country,” Pope Francis said.
President Kenyatta, said corruption was the major challenge facing the country. His rule has come under criticism for a lack of high-level prosecutions of officials accused of corruption.
Kenyatta told the Pope that colonization left Africa with artificial borders dividing communities, which has created tensions, but war and violence on the continent also has been fuelled by “our own selfish politicization of our ethnic and religious identities."
Speaking to the reporters en route to Kenya, the Pope also confirmed he would visit four cities, including Ciudad Juarez on the US-Mexican border, when he visits Mexico in February.
Customary for a traveling Pope, Pope Francis sent a telegram extending greetings to the heads of states of each country he flew passed en route to Kenya; these countries include Kenya itself, Italy, Greece, Egypt and Ethiopia. The Holy Father in his telegram offered his prayers for peace to reign in their nations.
After visiting Nairobi’s Kangemi slum Friday, Francis heads to Uganda where he’ll pray at the shrine to the country’s famous martyrs and celebrate a Mass.