Pope Francis makes you stop and think deeper


Pope Francis has a kind of magic that makes all and sundry reflect, stop and think deeper.

Wednesday’s meeting at State House had an electric feeling.

There were important and less than important people. The rich and the poor, the good, the bad and the ugly.

The believer and the unbeliever. The press. Christians from all denominations, Muslims, Hindus it was a fantastic social and cultural potpourri.

Everyone at State House had one common goal, to listen to a man who is genuine, who walks the talk and swims against the current, always with a kindhearted smile.

Pope Francis does things differently. He breaks all the usual moulds and protocols. He loves small and unusual gestures that mean a lot.

These gestures add a tremendous strength to his message. He is a great communicator, though not a extraordinary orator.

His modesty and simple lifestyle is a sharp contrast to today’s widespread consumerism, frivolity and corruption that has degenerated into sharp social inequalities.

Pope Francis is also discrete in his speech. He uttered just above 1000 words at his homily at the University grounds. This is quite short for any Sunday sermon, let alone a papal mass for which tens of thousands braved the rain, cold, mud and insufficient and messy seating space. But it did not seem little for the seating and standing crowdand for the millions of viewers.

I was seating next to Margaret Kiboi and Charles, her husband. Margaret is a very young wife, due to deliver her baby in two weeks’ time. To me, Margaret’s presence in such a crowd was an amazing feat of faith, daring and love.

Margaret and Charles were fully absorbed in whatever the Pope said and did. Every gesture mattered to them and, I believe, to all of us.

Pope Francis’ message put forth four interrelated, powerful, yet simple points: faith, environment, family and materialism. He weaved them in a seamless fashion, not only with words but also through formidable deeds since he arrived in Kenya.

The cheap and low emission car he chose, the simplicity of his meals, his energy and courage to undertake an extraordinarily grilling schedule His constant smile despite rail, tiredness, annoyance or whatever human factor that may afflict any almost 77-year-old human being.

Pope Francis spoke of real faith. A faith that is transformational. A faith that seeks beauty and truth respecting the dignity of the other and with nature.

He said in State House that faith should not be a dividing wall between human beings. “God’s name must never be used to justify hatred and violence.”

Actually hatred destroys faith, which should be a “solid foundation of mutual respect, dialogue and cooperation, [building] a multiethnic society which is truly harmonious, just and inclusive.”

Faith is learnt primarily through the family, which in Africa is “taught to accept children as a blessing for our world, and to defend the dignity of each man and woman, for all of us are brothers and sisters in the one human family.”

“In obedience to God’s word,” Pope Francis added, “we are also called to resist practices which foster arrogance in men, hurt or demean women, and threaten the life of the innocent unborn.”

This love expresses itself in a desire for fidelity, loving kindness and mercy. This desire nurtures peace, unity and respect, and it is threatened by “the growth of new deserts created by a culture of materialism and indifference to others.”

Materialism and indifference beget dysfunctional societies, which have no respect for their surroundings. “The grave environmental crisis facing our world demands an ever greater sensitivity to the relationship between human beings and nature.”

“May you always be concerned for the needs of the poor, and reject everything that leads to prejudice and discrimination, for these things, we know, are not of God.”

In Pope Francis’ words we should “let the great values of Africa’s traditions, the wisdom and truth of God’s word, and the generous idealism of your youth guide you in working to shape a society which is ever more just, inclusive and respectful of human dignity.”

The mass was coming to an end. I was aware that from the point of view of logistics, Pope Francis’ mass at the university grounds was not an exception; things worked the unexpected way, the other way around.

This usually happens, even Winston Churchill was well aware of this. In fact, the story goes around that the famous and beautiful French actress Bridget Bardot told Churchill: “Winston, we should get married. Just imagine our fantastic children, with my beauty and your wisdom.”

Churchill replied, “that’s possible, but just imagine how disastrous if it works the other way around!”

Well, at the Nairobi grounds, the rain came on the wrong day. They said it is a blessing, but I believe this applies more to farmers. The sitting arrangement was clearly insufficient. The gates opened late and they were rather small.

But all those present on the muddy grounds had a common look in their faces. The satisfied look of having witnessed a unique worthwhile experience.

Francis ended his sermon with an appealing and consoling punchline: “Stand strong in faith! Do not be afraid! For you belong to the Lord.”

Be not afraid! What a beautiful chant for our young people, the dreamers and the future of Kenya.