Pope Francis sets off for Kenya at start of African tour


Pope Francis flew to Kenya this week to start a three-nation African tour – his first to the continent as pontiff. “I go with joy to meet Kenyans, Ugandans and our brothers in Central Africa,” he told journalists on his plane.

Kenya’s government plans to deploy up to 10,000 police officers during the papal visit. Militant Islamists have carried out a spate of attacks in Kenya including an assault on the Garissa National University College in April this year during which about 150 people were killed. The Pope played down fears for his safety by joking: “I’m more worried about the mosquitoes.”

About 30% of Kenyans, including President Uhuru Kenyatta , are Catholics, and the papal visit has generated considerable excitement . Thursday has been declared a national holiday and thousands are expected to line the streets of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, to welcome the Pope. One of Kenya’s main newspapers, The Standard, welcomed the Pope with headlines in the regional Swahili language “Karibu Papa Francis” and Latin “ Grata Franciscus Pontifex”.

During his three-day stay the pontiff will meet with President Kenyatta and take part in a mass at the University of Nairobi sports ground, where a crowd of more than one million is expected. Poverty, corruption and religious conflict are among the issues he is expected to tackle during his visit.

Among those who will be attending an inter-faith meeting which Pope Francis will host is Abdalla Kwamana, the vice-chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims. Mr Kwamana welcomed the Pope’s decision to include a shantytown in his itinerary: “It is often said that Kenya is owned by the rich and powerful. The people in the slums are never recognised”.  Mr Kwamana commented that he Pope’s visit will give hope to the downtrodden slum dwellers “When he goes to see them and console them, they’ll feel they are people of substance”.

Pope Francis is also due to visit Uganda and Central African Republic, where the recent Christian-Muslim conflict gave rise to fears that the papal visit might have to be cancelled. Africa is home to one in six of the world’s Catholics.

ACN Malta