How do you host a humble pontiff?


Less than two weeks to go and you feel the growing excitement about Pope Francis’ first visit to Africa.

The Kenyan government has lots of experience at welcoming foreign dignitaries and is well versed in handling everything from security detail to personal diets.

But how do you welcome, facilitate and protect a man that is as spontaneous, simple and humble as the Pontiff?

How do you plan for a visitor who turned down a state banquet but chose to eat githeri (mixture of beans and maize) with the slum dwellers in Kangemi; a Head of State that declined an invite to address Parliament but requested to engage with the youth in Kasarani; a man of God who would never attend ICC Prayer rallies but will start his first day with interdenominational prayers.

Pope Francis is so authentic, unique, human and holy that his every word and gesture will be a challenge to his hosts and the global television audience.

His unequivocal preference for the poor and his simple lifestyle and Christian values are a threat to his own church as much as the general public.

Francis is not the head of a superpower but his power is in his ordinariness, humility and deep love for people and the planet.

He would most certainly not approve paving the roads or sprucing up the buildings in Kangemi to welcome him when he knows the hardships of daily life for the local residents.

He might have something to say, too, about wealthy politicians, banks and corporations raising Sh124 million to pay for his trip.

The sight of welcoming billboards sponsored by banks and industries would hardly be appreciated by one who has critically critiqued capitalism.

A man who walked the shanty towns of Buenos Aires also knows that considering giving two days holidays during his visit will hurt the poor most of all that are employed in kibarua.


Indeed while all this preparatory work of fund raising, security and giving a face lift is very well intentioned, it hardly resonates with the lifestyle or spirituality of Francis, who calls us to imitate the man from Galilee in his every move and utterance.

Yet, expect that the Pontiff will make a huge impact in Kenya.

The Kenyan hierarchy and church have not embraced Francis teachings like other continents.

They are all rather unfamiliar, uncomfortable with his understanding of a poor church for the poor.

This does not match up with their income generating projects or the prosperity gospel that is found in most Christian churches.

His merciful approach to divorcees, foreigners and gays is never repeated in pastoral letters and rarely preached in Kenyan churches.

His commitment to the environment is more akin to Wangari Maathai than clerics.

Clericalism may have been dealt a deadly blow in the West but it still thrives in this continent.

It gives privilege and protection and does not demand excessive accountability.

Much like the political class, the religious class should expect to be confronted by Francis in his sermons.

He comes at a time when corruption has become mega and everyone appears helpless to deal with it.

Yet, be assured he will call all to change and rediscover our common humanity.