By: VINCENT ACHUKA
Two chairs that have not been sat on for decades will be used by Pope Francis at two public forums when he visits Kenya in 10 days.
One of the chairs has not been used for 20 years and the other for 30. Only Pope John Paul II used the seats when he came to Kenya in 1981, 1985 and 1995.
John Paul II, one of the most popular popes in history, died in 2005. To Catholics, most of the items are not just souvenirs but have sacred links.
The Catholic Church in Kenya has been keeping several of these items in special storage rooms at the Resurrection Gardens and the Apostolic Nunciature in Westlands, Nairobi.
Pope Francis will find his room at the Nunciature in the same condition that Saint John Paul II left it 20 years ago.
During the Papal Mass at the University of Nairobi on November 26, the Pope will sit on a hand crafted crimson chair with curved arms and cabriole legs.
Designed in 1995, the chair has a papal crest carved on its apron and the image of a donkey on the headrest.
And during his meeting with youth at the Safaricom Kasarani Stadium the following day, the Pope will sit on a simpler white leather chair used by Saint John Paul II during his first two visits.
The Catholic Church says the decision to reuse the seats was informed by the Pope’s love for simplicity.
“Pope Francis named himself after Francis of Assisi, a preacher of poverty and humility, and he has been vocal on the environment so it is only fair for the church to abide by this,” said Father Stephen Okello, the co-ordinator of the steering committee who was also in charge of co-ordinating the Pope’s visit 20 years ago.
However, the Church is leaving nothing to chance despite the Pope’s devotion to simplicity.
Rehearsals are in progress for every activity that the Pope will be involved in and the places he will visit are getting new fittings.
A paved road with new streetlights has replaced the dirt road that leads to St Joseph the Worker Parish in Kangemi slums where a new parish, Christ the King, will be symbolically commissioned on November 22.
Nairobi County Government workers have been cleaning and re-cleaning the roads Pope Francis is expected to use, much to the happiness of residents who do not normally have such services.
Pope Francis is a Jesuit missionary and Mr Peter Magu, a member of the planning committee, said this was one of the reasons the Kangemi parish was selected.
A theme for the visit has already been decided and an emblem designed.
The emblem shows a dove flapping its wings under a red flame that has a cross and a map of Kenya at the centre.
A circle drawn in the colours of the Kenyan flag forms the outer frame with the words “Stand strong in faith, do not be afraid” on its top.
All the 4,000 priests from the 20,000 centres run by the Catholic Church and 60 bishops will be serving during the Papal Mass on November 26 at the University of Nairobi.
Of these, at least 1,500 priests will be distributing communion from five tents on the five kilometre stretch between the university and Nyayo Stadium where 18 giant screens will be erected.
“When the Pope last came we hardly managed to distribute communion because all the faithful had to follow proceedings from one central location at Uhuru Park,” Father Okello told the Sunday Nation.
“Each of the five tabernacle tents will have about 80 priests because we want everyone to be part of the proceedings just like during normal services. It will be the largest mass ever on Kenyan soil,” he said.
MAXIMISING ON PUBLICITY
The Catholic Church is not only the largest denomination in the world, but it is also the largest in the country, with 700 parishes countrywide.
Over a million people are expected to attend the mass but the UoN grounds are estimated to hold 300,000 people.
Each parish has been given slots for the lucky worshippers in the main venue.
The Pope is expected to ride on the “Popemobile”, his specially designed vehicle with bullet proof glass, to the UoN and Kenyans will be allowed to line up the roads to greet him.
“Kenyans will line up on selected roads to wave and greet the Pope at different times although the routes will be published and announcements made,” Mr David Omwoyo of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops said.
Pope Francis is, however, known to sometimes abandon the Popemobile and use an ordinary vehicle or walk on foot — a habit considered a security risk.
Ten choirs, including from the military, will sing during the Mass. They are practising daily at the Holy Family Basilica.
Only the bishops will sit with the Pope on the altar and political leaders and other VIPs will have their own tent.
About 2,500 priests will sit in front of the altar with the public behind them.
John Cardinal Njue and Bishop Cornelius Korir, the chairman of the Kenya Episcopal Conference, will be the principal assistants of Pope Francis and will stand by his side throughout the Mass, whose central part will be in Latin.
And, like other overseas Papal visits, a number of companies seeking the publicity that the event offers have come forward with donations of items to be used.
“Vatican Radio and Vatican TV will be operating from Nairobi beaming signals that will be relayed to 5,000 TV and 10,000 radio stations across the world,” said Mr Omwoyo.
Some of the companies that have taken advantage of this publicity include Equity Holdings, whose 1,500 branded umbrellas will be used by the priests distributing communion and life jackets for volunteers.
Safaricom has offered tablets for use during the Mass.
SOURCE: DAILY NATION