Rare security presence at Vatican envoy’s Nairobi residence

The Apostolic Nunciature, the house where Pope Francis’s representative in the country stays, is normally a quiet place.

However, since Wednesday, the house on Manyani Road in Lavington has awakened from its sleepiness and become no-go zone for the residents as top security officers were deployed at the nunciature, the address where Pope Francis has taken residence during his first tour of Africa.

Right from the turn off from Waiyaki Way, you notice the presence of police officers drawn from the regular and administration police and the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU).

Even though the pontiff said he was less concerned about threats to his security, the government has taken adequate measures to ensure no harm comes to the head of the Catholic Church and the Vatican State.

Driving to the residence at 6.30am Thursday morning, the one-kilometre stretch to the Nunciature was lined up with police vehicles and officers fully armed and sporting bullet-proof vests.

As we got close to the residence, the security presence became more pronounced, with more police officers keeping away Kenyans who had woken up early with the hope of catching a glimpse of the Pope on his way to the Holy Mass at the University of Nairobi grounds.

As the Vatican had accredited journalists, we were quickly waved on to the turn-off leading to the residence, where we drove past in a National Youth Service minibus that had been assigned to us. A lead police car was ahead of us.

A few metres past the Nunciature’s gate, the road had been blocked to lock out suspicious people from getting close to the pontiff.

Two ambulances were strategically stationed a few metres from the Nunciature’s gate as were GSU officers in their red berets on high alert. Passers-by were thoroughly frisked and many turned back, just in case they posed a danger to the Holy Father.

READ: Security concerns as Pope Francis makes Africa tour

At the gate to the Nunciature, a team of elite police officers from the Presidential Security were in command, acting on instruction on visitors who were to be allowed in.

A few people were gathered at the gate, most of them men of the cloth who were waiting to meet the Pope.

It took us  almost 30 minutes of waiting and a thorough inspection before we were ushered in, after our team leader from the Holy See press office Matteo Bruni.

Once inside the compound, you begin to understand why it is the preferred residence for the men who have headed the Vatican.

Pope John Paul II on three occasions stayed at the residence – in 1980, 1985 and 1995.

A simple two-storey house and a garage are the only buildings on the vast compound, which could give any aspiring conservationist a lesson on tree planting.

The environment resonates well with the mission that Pope Francis has chosen to pursue during his papacy – mitigating climatic change.

A foreign journalist in our team marveled at the huge cactus tree in the compound and took some snap shots of it.

At the entrance into the house was parked the Pope Mobile of the day, a Toyota Hilux pick-up tailored for the pontiff, covered in brown canvass with SCV1 on its number plate.

Guarding the door to the house were four security officers in civilian clothes who flew with the Pope from Rome. They consulted in low tones, adjusting their pieces, as they ushered in bishops who had come to meet the Pope.

Cardinal John Njue, Archbishop Peter Kairo of Nyeri, Bishop Philip Anyolo of Homa Bay and Military Ordinate Bishop Alfred Rotich turned up and were ushered in to see the Holy Father. Also religious leaders from other faiths turned up at the Nunciature.

At the corner of the compound was a Kenya Broadcasting Corporation outside broadcasting van, which was preparing for live transmission of the meeting between the religious leaders and the Pope.