Pope Francis on his first Visit to Africa after becoming the head of the Roman Catholic Church landed in Kenya on Wednesday 25th November 2015. The plane carrying the Roman Pontiff touched the Kenya grounds at exactly 5pm Kenyan time. On his arrival, the Pope was received by the Kenyan head of state President Uhuru Kenyatta at the Jomo Kenyatta international Airport. Also present to witness his arrival were catholic Christians from all walks of life, who turned out in their number to welcome their spiritual leader with songs, dance and jubilations. After his reception the Roman Pontiff headed to state house a board the 1300cc Honda Ballade, the simplest car a world leader has ever used. This was his way of expressing his simplicity and of being in solidarity with the less fortunate in Kenya. While at state house, the Roman Pontiff held a bilateral talk with President Kenyatta after which they both addressed the nation of Kenya. In His address to Kenya the ecologist pope expressed his love for Kenya, stating that, “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.” He went on to appreciate the country’s efforts in ensuring the conservation of nature. The Roman Pontiff also recognized “Kenya as a young and vibrant nation, a richly diverse society which plays a significant role in the region. A country with an experience of shaping a democracy that should be shared by many other African nations, which like Kenya are working towards building solid foundations of mutual respect, dialogue and cooperation with the aim of ensuring a multi-ethnic society that is truly harmonious, just and inclusive.
Papal Mass at the University of Nairobi Grounds
On 26th November 2015, the Papal Mass took place at the University of Nairobi Grounds. It was a cold rainy day in Nairobi, but still the venue witnessed an overwhelming crowd coming from all walks of life. During this mass, the face of Kenya was united under the Shepherdship of Pope Francis. All the Kenyan Roman Catholic Church Bishops, priests, Roman catholic religious men and woman, government officials led by President Kenyatta, the opposition chiefs and their brigades, catholic Christians from all parts of the country, the rich and the poor like, members of other Christian and religious faith and all the forty two tribes in Kenya braved the rains to witness and to take part in this historic event. In the crowd, the Vincentian family working in Kenya were not left out. Both Members of the Congregation of The Mission and Daughters of Charity, the young and old braved this cold rainy day to be part of the papal mass. The joy on the faces of many Kenyans at the ground in spite of the heavy down pour was great to an extent that one was left to believe that the rain drops from the skies were seen as God’s Grace dropping from heaven to cleanse the land of Kenya and to bless her people as the mass continues.
During the mass, the Pope being touched and moved by the overwhelming joy of the people expressed his deep love for the land and the people of Kenya. In his homily, the Pope Francis called on Kenyans to “stand strong in faith!” and not to be afraid, telling them that the Lord “asks us to be missionary disciples, men and women who radiate the truth, beauty and life-changing power of the Gospel.” He began his homily by stating that; God’s word speaks to us in the depths of our heart. Today God tells us that we belong to him. He made us, we are his family, and he will always be there for us. “Fear not”, he says to us, “I have chosen you and I promise to give you my blessing” (cf. Is 44:2). The Roman Pontiff then went on to emphasize the following points in his homily:
He emphasized the value of family and respect of human dignity. Stressing on this point Pope Francis present a family as an important aspect of God’s plan and at the same time an Important Component of the Society. By insisting that the health of any society always depends on the health of its families, the Pope went on to recognize how Kenyan society is blessed with strong family life, which has a deep respect for the wisdom of the elderly and love for children. He then urged all the faithful to keep supporting families in their mission in society, to accept children as a blessing for our world, and to defend the dignity of both man and woman.
He also appealed to all people with special attention to the young, to always promote good African values and more so to have deep concerned for the needs of the poor with the aim of promoting an inclusive society without discrimination. In his own words, the pope said, “Here, in the heart of this University, where the minds and hearts of new generations are being shaped, I appeal in a special way to the young people of the nation. Let the great values of Africa’s traditions, the wisdom and truth of God’s word and the generous idealism of your youth guide you in working to shape a society which is ever more just, inclusive and respectful of human dignity. May you always be concerned for the needs of the poor, and reject everything that leads to prejudice and discrimination, for these things, we know, are not of God”. For us the Vincentian family present at the papal Mass, this was like a call to us to try and work with the young people and shape their values and interest towards serving and giving special priority to the poor. Our Vincentian presence in Kenya was like being provoked by the pope to work toward forming the conscience of young men and women so that they can have preferential love for the poor.
Lastly in this mass, the pope encouraged all Kenyan to build their homes on Jesus who is the rock, and as the Saviour of mankind, calls us to build our lives on the firm foundation of his word. The pope reminded us that each one of us is a channel of Gods grace where God’s mercy, kindness and truth become building of a house that stands firm. It is only in God that we can build a home, where brothers and sisters can live in harmony and mutual respect, in obedience to the will of the true God, who has shown us, in Jesus, the way to that freedom and peace for which all hearts long.
The Papal mass was joyful and ended successfully. But even with that joy and success, the rain also brought with it some hiccups and little of disorganization here and there. The gates to the venue were opened later than the stipulated time making it difficult for the security to control the crowd that had already piled up at the gates. The screening of the people before entering the mass venue became a challenge. The big crow at the gates began pushing each other here and there with the desire to find their way into the venue before the beginning of the mass. This pushing ended up with some stampedes in the process that led to people being injured in the end of it all.
Papal Meeting with the Clergy, and religious men and women in working Kenya at St. Mary’s Msongari grounds
Later in the day at 4:00PM, the pope had a meeting with all the religious men and women working in Kenya at Msongari grounds. As a father he had something to whisper in the ears of his children. Some words of encouragement to religious men and women who have joyfully embrace the vocation they are called to by Jesus Christ. The pope reminded the religious men and women that we are all called to follow Jesus and that the call began with our baptism. He added that, we must always be aware of why the Lord called us. He continued to remind us that, in following Jesus, we must go through the door, for there is no short cut in this life. In his own words, the pope said that; “You must follow through a door and that door is Jesus Christ, some want to go through the window and it is not good.” He even went further to warn these holy men and women gathered at Msongari grounds against being over ambitious of the worldly things. According to him “these things, ambition and power, sit in our hearts like weeds. We should have no room for such, for “there is no short-cut in this job. We cannot be guided by ambition for money or power,” He went on to painfully reprimand those of us who are tired of this life to quit and find an alternative life. In calling religious men and women to be ready to serve and not demand to be served the pope said that some priests have today fallen to the sin of lukewarmness and have long lost the once burning fire of selflessly serving mankind. “I tell you seriously, the Church is not a business. It is a ministry. You should serve the church, not look to be served,”
In conclusion of his speech, the Pope talked about the joy of a life of radical service to the Gospel and of the faithfulness to Christ, which according to him is the guarantee of happiness and success in ordained ministry and consecrated discipleship. The Roman Pontiff before leaving Msongari grounds had a special time with the people suffering from the pains of terminal illness such as cancer. The majority of the sick people who met the pope were those under the Care of the Daughters of Charity from Dream Centre in -Nairobi and from Hospice Care Centre in Holy Cross Parish-Thigio. The Pope’s encounter with the sick, made some member of the Daughters of Charity have a close contact with the pope and even to receive the kisses of peace directly from the successor of Peter.
Papal Meeting with other Christian communities and religious traditions in Kenya on 26th November 2015
During his Visit to Kenya the pope fostered inter-religious relationship by creating an opportunity to meet the leaders of other Christian communities and religious traditions in Kenya. While meeting with them, he expressed his sincere gratitude to meet them and went on to emphasize on the need of friendship among different faiths. He stressed on the need of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue as a way of strengthening already existing friendship by stating that, “ecumenical and interreligious dialogue is not a luxury. It is not something extra or optional, but essential, something which our world, wounded by conflict and division, increasingly needs.” He pointed out that our religious belief is a “source of enlightenment, wisdom and solidarity, and thus enrich the societies in which we live.” He then urged religious leaders to keep caring for the spiritual growth of our communities, by forming minds and hearts in the truths and values taught by their religious traditions. According to Pope Francis, if religious leaders can do this then they can become a blessing to the communities in which our people live. He even emphasized the need for cooperation between religious faiths for the common good of the people of Kenya by stating that; “In democratic and pluralistic societies like Kenya, cooperation between religious leaders and communities becomes an important service to the common good.” He then concluded his remarks with the common conviction that the God whom we seek to serve is a God of peace, and therefore it is wrong to use His Holy Name to justify hatred and violence as have recently been witnessed in Westgate Mall, Garissa University College and Mandera terror attacks.
Papal Meeting with less Fortunate members of St. Joseph the Worker parish -Kangemi November 27, 2015
The pope’s visit to Kenya could have not been to its climax, without the pope spending some time with the less fortunate members of the society Kenyan. In expressing his special concern and love for the poor he took time staying with members of St, Joseph the worker parish in Kangemi slum listening to their sorrows. In his speech he began by stating that, “ I feel very much at home sharing these moments with brothers and sisters who, and I am not ashamed to say this, have a special place in my life and my decisions. I am here because I want you to know that your joys and hopes, your troubles and your sorrows, are not indifferent to me. I realize the difficulties which you experience daily! How can I not denounce the injustices which you suffer?
In his speech The Pope, went on to appreciate the spirit of good neighbourhood that is found among the poor societies that he sees as the people living the true gospel values. He reminded the people here that, in spite of their tribulation, they are still able “to weave bonds of belonging and togetherness which convert overcrowding into an experience of community in which the walls of the ego are torn down and the barriers of selfishness overcome” He said that this way of life among the poor “has very positive traits, which can offer something to these times in which we live; it is expressed in values such as solidarity, giving one’s life for others, preferring birth to death, providing Christian burial to one’s dead; finding a place for the sick in one’s home, sharing bread with the hungry (for ‘there is always room for one more seat at the table’), showing patience and strength when faced with great adversity, and so on.” In support to their way of life the pope put forth through his congratulatory message that, this life is a sign of true faith by saying that “I congratulate you, I accompany you and I want you to know that the Lord never forgets you. The path of Jesus began on the peripheries; it goes from the poor and with the poor, towards others.”
The Holy Father also had pity on the situation in which they are living and expressed his concern that that world today has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to infrastructures and basic services such as: toilets, sewers drains, refuse collection, electricity, roads, as well as schools, hospitals, recreational and sport centres, studios and workshops for artists and craftsmen. And more so lack of access to drinking water which he considers a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. To improve the situation the Roman Pontiff called upon the authority to work closely with the people to embark, on the path of social inclusion, education, sport, community action, and the protection of families. For him, this is the only guarantee of a peace that is just, authentic and enduring in any society.
The pope in his speech further condemned the injustices being inflicted on the poor and advocated for integrated cities which belong to everyone. by insisting that “We need to go beyond the mere proclamation of rights which are not respected in practice, to implementing concrete and systematic initiatives capable of improving the overall living situation, and planning new urban developments of good quality for housing future generations. The social and environmental debt owed to the poor of cities can be paid by respecting their sacred right to the “three Ls”: Land, Lodging, and Labour. This is not a question of philanthropy; rather it is a duty incumbent upon all of us.” He concluded his speech here by urging all Christians, and their pastors in particular, to renew their missionary zeal, to take initiative in the face of so many situations of injustice, to be involved in their neighbours’ problems, to accompany them in their struggles, to protect the fruits of their communitarian labour and to celebrate together each others victory, whether large or small. This point indicated a clear need for the Vincentian systemic change program to empower and improve the lives of the poor people in Kenya and the whole of Africa.
Papal Meeting with the youth of Kenya Kasarani sport centre – November 27, 2015
Lastly, few hours before leaving Kenya, the pope had to shift his attention to the future of the Catholic Church in Kenya and the hope of our country. He had a meeting with the heart of the church called the youth on 27th November 2015 at Kasarani ground. During this meeting, the pope in showing his love for the youth went off-the-cuff in his speech to respond challenging topics affecting the youth in Kenya today such as: radicalization and youth recruited to terrorist activities. The youth themselves, took the Roman Pontiff to task by asking questions that touches their core interest ranging from corruption, tribalism, and the radicalization of youth who are being recruited into terrorist activities.
The pope while responding to these questions stated that, “.the spirit of evil takes us to destruction. And the spirit takes us to a lack of unity. It takes us to tribalism, corruption and drugs. It takes us to destruction out of fanaticism. How do we make it such that fanatical idealism doesn’t rob us of a brother or sister?” He explained that all these only take place when “a man or a woman loses their humanity, when they forget how to pray, because they feel powerful, because they don’t feel the need to ask the Lord for help, in the face of so many tragedies.”
He reminded young people that life is full of difficulties and, as young people, “we don’t live in heaven, we live on earth. And earth is full of difficulties and invitations that will lead you astray to evil. But there is something all of you have. The capacity to choose. Which path do you want to choose? Which of these two do I want?”
On tribalism the pope said that the pope said that; “it can destroy. It can mean having your hands hidden behind your backs. And have a stone in each hand to throw to others. Tribalism can only be overcome with your ear, your heart, and your hand. (Ask yourselves): What is your culture? Why are you like this? Why do your cousins have these customs? Do they feel inferior or superior? For the pope, it is only when we answers this questions by letting the answers flow from our ear deep to our heart then and only then can we able to have dialogue with each other. However, without good answers, we will always have division like a worm that grows in society. To emphasise this point he invited young people and holding hands with them urged them to hold each other’s hand, and stand up as a sign against tribalism. He also reminded the youth that fight against, “tribalism isn’t just raising our hands today, it’s an expression of our desire, our hearts, and this fight against tendency of tribalism is a work we must carry out every day.”
On the question of corruption: The pope admitted the fact corruption is a reality in our society and that it exist even in some areas of Vatican, but went to ask that, how can we be Christians and overcome this evil of corruption? According to him, “Corruption is something that eats inside, like sugar. Sweet, we like it, it’s easy. And then we end up in a bad way. So much sugar that we end up being diabetic or our country ends up being diabetic. Each time when we accept a bribe and we put it in our pockets, we destroy our hearts. We destroy our personalities, and we destroy our country. Please, don’t develop that taste for that sugar which is called corruption. You might say ‘but Holy Father, I see many who are corrupt. I see so many people who are sold. Just for a little bit of money, without worrying about the livelihood of others.” To fight corruption need a start, and “If you don’t want corruption in your lives, hearts and country, start now, yourselves, because if you don’t start then the person that’s beside you won’t start.”
For the pontiff, Corruption takes away our joy, and our peace. “Corrupt people don’t live in peace. For whatever is robed through corruption will stay here. Also, what will remain is that the hearts of many men and women who are wounded by this act of corruption. What will remain behind is also the lack of good that could have been done. It will remain in the children who suffer. Therefore, corruption is not a path to life; it’s a path to death.”
Responding to the question of radicalization, the pope said that we must together with people in authority find out the reason as to why young people full of ideals allow themselves to be radicalized in this way and what is it that makes them to leave their friends, their tribe, their country behind in order to learn how to kill. If a young woman or man has no work, cannot study, what can he or she do? He can only live a life of delinquency, falling into drug abuse, or even into suicide. Radicalization is a vice that is resulting from a social danger which is beyond us and it’s even beyond the country, because it depends on an international system that is unjust. It’s the injustice of having an economic system where the person is not the centre but rather the god of money.
He concluded his speech to the youth by urging them to develop the culture of prayer. He said to them, “Pray! But (pray) really hard. God is much stronger than any recruitment campaign. And then, speak with tenderness, understanding, love, and with great patience to invite them to come watch some football, to walk with you, to be together in your group, don’t allow them to remain on their own.”
By Peter Mutula, CM