With the Pope just landing in Kenya, the local Salesians are seeing the fruits of their work to prepare the country for the papal visit.
A superior of the congregation is the president of the Organizing Committee for the Holy Father’s meeting with young people at Nairobi’s Kasarani Stadium, planned for Friday morning.
Salesian Father Giannoi Rolandi, a missionary in African for 30 years, spoke with ZENIT about the anticipation for the Pope’s trip.
ZENIT: Father Gianni, in view of the Pope’s visit, almost eight months after the massacre of Garissa, how is the security situation in Kenya?
Father Rolandi: Kenya has taken the Pope’s visit very seriously and the government is seeking to focus on the fact of security. Feared, in fact, very concretely, is that the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab wants to take advantage of the Pope’s coming to again strike the Christians of Kenya. This would be a real disaster and the forces of order are now trying to do their utmost to take the necessary precautions.
ZENIT: How is the country preparing for the Pope’s visit?
Father Rolandi: Our Salesian communities in Kenya are inserted in the program of the Conference of Religious Superiors of Kenya, which dialogues with the Episcopal Conference and with the Association of Feminine Congregations. Great preparations are being made for the Eucharistic celebration of November 26, in which very many priests and Religious will take part, and then for the Holy Father’s meeting with members of consecrated life and diocesan priests, again on November 26, after the celebration of the Eucharist. The preparations are being made by some 9,000 members of consecrated life and priests, who will meet the Pope at Msongari, a great high school not far from the Square where the Eucharist will be celebrated.
ZENIT: In what tasks, in particular, has the Salesian community been involved?
Father Rolandi: Our Vicar Inspector, Father Simon Asira Lipuku, is the President of the Commission that is organizing the the Holy Father’s meeting with young people on November 27, before his departure for Uganda. We were stunned that the Episcopal Conference thought of the Salesians for this task! This is giving us the opportunity to come to know in a more detailed way the youth reality at the level of the Catholic Church in Kenya.
ZENIT: Is Francis popular in Kenya? What expectations are there for his meetings?
Father Rolandi: I would say that Pope Francis is very popular in Kenya, a country in which Catholics constitute the largest Christian church but where the members of the Protestant churches all together are more numerous than the Catholics.
It seems to me that the expectations are those of coming into contact more directly (even if through large screens that will be set up for the celebrations) with a “man of God,” who with great simplicity says things that make the “arrogant” tremble “on their thrones.” The Catholic Church and the members of consecrated life in particular are awaiting his words and planning to spread them after the visit, to be able to have the voice of the Church heard in an authoritative way on many points of interest, in particular on the injustices at the social and political level, and on the ethnic differences that are dividing the country.
ZENIT: If you could address words or a particular greeting to the Holy Father, what would you say?
Father Rolandi: I would say to him: “Holy Father, I am here before you, to give you the greeting of all the Salesian Family that lives and works in Kenya. We want to thank you for your constant invitation to be there, where the most marginalized young people are found, in the peripheries of our society … The peripheries are enormous here: there is truly space for very many that want to be available! To help us with his prayer to be apostles of young people always with a smile on our lips, not because we are not aware of the problems, but because we refuse to be saddened by all that we see that is negative around us. We want to be messengers of the joy that is discovered in putting oneself with Jesus at the service of the poorest. That he help us to live our consecrated life with great joy and enthusiasm, so as not to become ‘office Religious,’ but brothers and sisters of young people always ready to be in their midst. Thus we will be persons that are able to put God at the center of their life, living fraternal communion as prophecy in a world that is often individualistic and relativistic, to be with joy at the service of the poorest and most abandoned young people. We assure you that we will pray for you every day and for your ministry of love and communion for the whole of humanity!”
[Translation by ZENIT]