NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 26 – Pope Francis held his first open-air mass in Africa on Thursday with huge crowds calling heavy rains “God’s blessing” as they sung and danced in the Kenyan capital.
Thousands of people queued throughout the night braving torrential rains to secure a place at the first mass celebrated by Francis on African soil.
The 78-year-old pontiff received a tumultuous welcome as he arrived in an open-topped Popemobile, smiling and waving as worshippers cheered, ululated and raised their hands in the air.
The mass at the University of Nairobi — also shown on giant television screens in neighbouring parks — was the pope’s first major public appearance and a highly-anticipated part of his three-day visit to Kenya.
Kenyan media said 200,000 people — including 9,000 priests and 60 cardinals, archbishops and bishops — crammed into the park, smiling despite the rain.
“It’s important for me to be here because I want to see the pope and hear his message… about peace, forgiveness, love and unity,” engineering student Stephen Kola told AFP.
Over his traditional white robes the pope wore a garment embroidered with Maasai-style beading specially made for him by a group of tailors living in Kangemi slum which he will visit on Friday.
Thousands of police and troops have been deployed across the city as the pontiff makes his first visit to Kenya on a six-day trip which will also take him to Uganda and Central African Republic (CAR).
During a mass punctuated by frequent bouts of lively singing and dancing Francis made a special appeal to young people to work “to shape a society which is ever more just, inclusive and respectful” of human dignity.