Pope lands in Nairobi to a rousing welcome from jubilant Kenyans

Pope Francis arrived in Kenya Wednesday evening to a rousing welcome at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport where he breathed the African air for the very first time and set the tone for his five-day visit with a message of peace.

“Mungu abariki Kenya! God bless Kenya”, he tweeted just two hours before his plane – Shepherd One – touched down at JKIA.

The 78-year-old pontiff is expected to use the trip, which straddles Uganda and Central African Republic, to deliver a total of 19 speeches on peace, social justice, environmental protection and interfaith dialogue.

At State House Nairobi where he met President Uhuru Kenyatta and other leaders, calls for national reconciliation dominated the talks.

Most of the speeches meant for Kenyans will, however, be delivered on Friday.

The busy day starts with an interreligious meeting where he is set to call for tolerance and peaceful coexistence at a time of rising extremism that has strained relations between Muslims and Christians.

The Pope will then hold a separate meeting with Catholic clergy before eventually addressing diplomats at the United Nations complex, Gigiri.

The Gigiri Complex hosts the global headquarters of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) headquarters. It also hosts the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) whose work should be of great interest to the Pope.

It is at the Gigiri Complex that Pope Francis is expected to renew his attack on unbridled capitalism that he blames for reckless use of environment and consigning the poor to economic periphery.

He has consistently called for sustainable use of environment as well as inclusion of the vulnerable groups – women and children – in the mainstream economic activities.

Before he departs to Uganda, the pontiff, described by the Vatican as ‘Champion of the poor’ will tour Kangemi slum before addressing youth at the Kasarani Stadium.

READ: At 78, busy schedule shows Pope Francis is as fit as a fiddle

At its top echelons of power, Kenya has interpreted the Pope’s call for social and economic inclusion to include fighting corruption and other vices that have widened gap between the rich and the poor.

In anticipation of the papal visit, President Kenyatta unveiled radical measures for tackling corruption this week before he reconstituted his Cabinet by dropping every secretary facing corruption allegation. 

When he arrived in Nairobi on Wednesday, Pope Francis made history as the third pope to visit Africa, underscoring the continent’s growing importance in the growth and agenda of the Catholic Church.

Even as Kenya banks on Pope Francis to help strengthen State’s resolve to fight corruption, leaked documents indicate that the Vatican itself has been dogged by wastage and corruption. 

The documents published by international press indicate that the Pope has been unable to persuade many of his Vatican officials to follow his own frugal example and live a simple life.

In Nairobi, hundreds of faithful who lined the roads to see their spiritual leader were left guessing after he opted not to ride in a long convoy rather than use the open-topped “popemobile” to State House.