EDITORIAL: Welcome Pope Francis, fearless crusader for the poor

Pope Francis lands in East Africa this week for a five-day tour of Kenya and Uganda will the Holy Father will leave the region a better place in terms of integrity and security?

Top in his agenda will be peace and co-existence, youth unemployment, vulnerable groups and the environment, particularly climate change. Given that he is already widely seen as a social crusader for the weak and an agent of change, we have every reason to hope that the visit of the Pope to be a turning point for the region.

The fact that Catholics and other Christians will be travelling from as far away as South Sudan and beyond to see the Pope is already proving a unifying factor. Muslims across the region have also welcomed the Pope’s visit and expressed the hope that he will address the issue of religious tolerance.

The region is suffering not only from insecurity brought about by the terrorism perpetuated by Al Shabaab, but also as a result of injustices, economic exclusion, intolerance, corruption and the tendency by regional leaders to cling to power beyond their constitutional mandate.

South Sudan and Burundi are grappling with serious security and humanitarian catastrophes because of political intolerance and leaders’ stubborn determination to hold on to power or gain power by all means.

Since his inauguration, Pope Francis has been at the forefront of aocating on environmental issues and climate change will be one of the issues he will be addressing, especially given that Kenya is the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme.

In Kenya, society is current polarised over ethnicity, corruption, economic disparities, political and religious intolerance, so the Pope will serve as a rallying point for Kenyans and help them cast aside their differences, albeit momentarily.

The challenge is how Kenyans can built on such an opportunity to try and reach out to each other even after the Pope has left. The Pope will be showing humility by conducting Mass at the Kangemi slums in Nairobi as a way of reaching out to the downtrodden. It will serve as an eye-opener for a country whose moral fibre is eroding by the day and where corruption is inexorably becoming a virtue.

It is our hope that when the Pope meets political, religious and business leaders in both Kenya and Uganda, he will persuade them of the need for social justice as the first step towards peace, security and national cohesion.

On the other hand, Uganda is the land of Christian Martyrs immortalised by the Namugongo Shrine, which attracts thousands of pilgrims from around the world.

The Pope is likely to address the issue of religious tolerance on his visit to Namugongo. But the Pontiff will also address key issues affecting Uganda such as poverty and income inequality co-operation between the Church and the government and human rights.