NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 26 -Kenyan Catholic leaders are expecting over a million people to attend an open-air mass led by Pope Francis in the capital Nairobi Thursday, the first full day of his Africa tour.,
Thousands of police and troops have been deployed and roads closed to ensure security 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).
Both Kenya and Uganda have suffered major attacks by Al-Qaeda’s East Africa branch, the Shabaab, because they have troops deployed in Somalia.
The public mass, which begins at 0700 GMT, will be celebrated in the grounds of Nairobi University and broadcast live in two other parks in the city in a highly anticipated part of the pope’s programme. Francis will also visit a slum on Friday morning.
Speaking alongside President Uhuru Kenyatta after talks at Nairobi’s State House on Wednesday evening, Francis urged leaders to work with “transparency” and to battle inequality.
“I encourage you to work with integrity and transparency for the common good, and to foster a spirit of solidarity at every level of society,” he said, in comments alluding to the corruption and inequality that blights Kenya.
“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,” Francis said.
– ‘Grave environmental crisis’ –
The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics also warned the world was facing a “grave environmental crisis” just days before the start of COP21, a key United Nations climate conference in Paris.
“There is a clear link between the protection of nature and the building of a just and equitable social order,” he said.
Francis is expected to speak further on the environment on Thursday when he visits the Nairobi headquarters of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).
Ahead of the visit, UNEP chief Achim Steiner told AFP the pope had a “profound role to play” in efforts to tackle climate change.
“Whether you are a Catholic or not, it is the ethical, the moral dimension of acting on something that we know is a threat to future generations,” Steiner said.
Francis is the fourth pope to visit Africa, a continent which is now home to one in six of the world’s Catholics and whose importance to the Church is set to grow significantly over the coming decades.
He is following in the footsteps of Paul VI, who became the first pope of modern times to set foot in Africa when he visited Uganda in 1969.
He was followed by John Paul II, who managed to visit a total of 42 countries on the continent during his long papacy and was dubbed “The African” by a Senegalese cardinal.