Pope Francis’ imminent visit to the Kenyan capital of Nairobi will bring healing and reconciliation to the nation that has suffered a lot of misfortunes in the recent past, senior bishops there say.
“People are very much waiting to see Pope Francis because of what they hear about his way of doing things, the way that he’s simple, he goes to the poor and to the simple,” Bishop James Maria Wainaina Kungu told journalists Oct. 28. Bishop Kungu oversees the Catholic diocese of Muranga, roughly an hour car ride from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
Bishop Kungu is one of the country’s 38 Catholic bishops, he spoke to journalists in Rome after giving a brief background on Kenya ahead of the Pope’s visit. The pope’s Nov. 25-30 pilgrimage to Africa also includes travel to Uganda and the Central African Republic. Speaking on Sunday to a crowd of faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis raised the probability that security risks could cause the Central African Republic leg of his trip to change or even be abandoned.
Kenya is the first country Pope Francis will visit during his Nov. 25-30 voyage to the African continent before making his way to Uganda and the war-torn Central African Republic.
Bishop Kungu said that Kenya’s poorest people “are very much expecting to have the Pope,” and will be happy just get a glimpse of him and to have him in their neighborhood. “I believe it is something that people will cherish.”
However, bishops in Kenya are worried about how the ongoing political strife and ethnic incitement could ruin the pope’s visit. In the last few weeks, Kenyan government and opposition leaders have torn into each other over what is viewed as runaway corruption, greed, and mismanagement.
“We declare and demand an honest cease-fire and an end to the incessant name-calling among our politicians,” Bishop Alfred Rotich, chairman of the pope’s visit for the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, said at a news conference Sunday.
Among the things Pope Francis will do is to meet and console the Garissa University attack victims and families of those who lost their loved ones when Al Shabaab insurgents ambushed the institution and killed 148 people. The militant group attacked the upscale Westgate shopping mall in September 2013, killing 67 people and injuring more than 200.
“When we visited him in Rome he asked about the Garissa University attack and mentioned that he will be coming to comfort the people of Kenya,” Bishop Alfred Rotich of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops as quoted by Nation. The bishops are hoping that Pope Francis would also speak on other critical issues such as corruption and tribalism.
Kenya is yet to recover from the 2007-2008 post-election violence, which left over 1,200 dead and more than 600,000 forced into Internally Displaced Persons camps, known as IDPs. The violence also divided the Kenyan church.
Catholics in Kenya make up approximately 30 percent of the country’s overwhelming Christian majority. 80 percent of Kenyans are Christian, while Muslims constitute 15-20 percent of the country’s religious make up.
Meanwhile, Catholic priests who left the Church to claim their right to marry want to meet Francis when he visits Kenya. “We want him to know that celibacy is a reason why the Church is losing its members to other denominations,” said Peter Njogu, a former Catholic priest who left to form the Restored Universal Apostolic Church.
Pope Francis will become the fourth Pope to visit Kenya. There were papal visits in 1980, 1985 and 1995.