God bless you and give you peace, Pope Francis says on his first visit to Kenya

By: JOHN NGIRACHU

Pope Francis on Wednesday asked Kenyan leaders to take care of the needs of the poor and protect the country’s abundant natural resources to benefit future generations.

Speaking at State House, Nairobi, last evening, the head of the Catholic Church, also sent his blessings, saying in Kiswahili “Mungu aibariki Kenya! (God bless Kenya!).

In his comments in the visitors’ book he signed shortly after his arrival at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, the Pope wrote: “May almighty God abundantly bless the Republic of Kenya and grant peace and joy to all her children and all her elderly.”

The Pope also praised the beauty of the country, but challenged the people and their leaders to take good care of their environment.

“The Kenyan people have a strong appreciation of these God-given treasures and are known for a culture of conservation, which does you honour. The grave environmental crisis facing our world demands an ever greater sensitivity to the relationship between human beings and nature,” he said.

“We have a responsibility to pass on the beauty of nature in its integrity to future generations, and an obligation to exercise a just stewardship of the gifts we have received. These values are deeply rooted in the African soul. In a world which continues to exploit rather than protect our common home, they must inspire the efforts of national leaders to promote responsible models of economic development”.

KENYA’S LEADERSHIP

The Pope’s first stop was State House and his first audience the country’s leadership, among them retired presidents Mwai Kibaki and Daniel arap Moi, MPs, senators, governors, judges and heads of constitutional commissions.

He also spoke about peace and justice.

“I am told that here in Kenya, it is a tradition for young schoolchildren to plant trees for posterity. May this eloquent sign of hope in the future, and trust in the growth, which God gives, sustain all of you in your efforts to cultivate a society of solidarity, justice and peace on the soil of this country and throughout the great African continent,” he said.

His message was a mixture of serious topics associated with Heads of State, spiced with the warmth and kindness of a spiritual leader reaching out to the heart of mankind.

“I thank you once more for your warm welcome, and upon you and your families, and all the beloved Kenyan people, I invoke the Lord’s abundant blessings,” he said at the end of his 10-minute speech.

He appeared to be setting the tone for his two days in Kenya.

SPECIAL MASS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NAIROBI

This morning, he is scheduled to celebrate a special Mass at the University of Nairobi grounds.

The centre of the capital has been converted into a large vehicle-free pedestrian zone, with at least one million people expected in Nairobi to attend the Mass.

Pope Francis started off the Kenyan leg of his African tour with the ceremonies of State, including a guard of honour, a 21-gun salute and bilateral talks with President Kenyatta.

The Pope will spend time with ordinary men and women today and tomorrow, with a visit to Kangemi and an address to the youth at Kasarani Stadium.After his talks with the President, he walked into the tent in the State House Gardens where invited guests were waiting for his address. When they saw him, some erupted in ululations and could barely wait for President Kenyatta to finish his speech.

“Kenya is a young and vibrant nation, a richly diverse society, which plays a significant role in the region. In many ways, your experience of shaping a democracy is one shared by many other African nations,” said the Pope after the President had invited him to speak.

He said he looked forward to meeting the youth.

“The young are any nation’s most valuable resource. To protect them, to invest in them and to offer them a helping hand, is the best way we can ensure a future worthy of the wisdom and spiritual values dear to their elders, values which are the very heart and soul of a people,” he said.

FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION

President Kenyatta started and ended his brief address by asking the Pope to pray for him and the country and especially in the fight against corruption.

“Kenya’s future depends upon upholding the highest standards of integrity in governance, inclusivity and the protection of peace. Your Holiness, like you, as a nation, we want to combat the vices of corruption, which sacrifice people and our environment in the pursuit of illegal profit,” said President Kenyatta. “In the heart of every Kenyan, we know we must win this war and it falls on me to lead it, and Holy Father, I ask for your prayers as we fight this war.”

The President also spoke of the role of the church in the development of the country right from colonial times. “Through its dioceses, in Kenya, the church is the largest non-state provider of healthcare with nearly 500 healthcare units and over 50 community orphanages,” he said.

President Kenyatta also described himself as a product of a school run by the Catholics. He is an alumnus of St Mary’s School.

“I close by asking that you pray for me, you pray that as I lead this nation, God will lead me and I ask you to pray for Kenya, I also ask that you pray for Kenyans and that God will hear us and heal this land,” he said.

SOURCE: DAILY NATION