“The social and environmental debt owed to the poor of cities can be paid by respecting their sacred right of the ‘three L’s’: Land, Lodging, Labour,” the Pope said today, stressing, “This is not philanthropy; it is a moral duty upon all of us.”
The Pope made this strong statement this morning when speaking to the poor of the Kengami Slum in Nairobi. The residents of the slum — one of the six slum neighborhoods in Nairobi — welcomed him with cheers and enthusiasm.
There are approximately 2.5 million slum dwellers in Nairobi, representing 60% of the city’s population but occupying just 6% of the land. Nairobi, in fact, has the biggest and most populated slum in the world, called Kibera. However, Pope Francis visited today Kangemi, becuase it is rather less dangerous than some of the other slums of the city.
In referencing the “three L’s,” Pope Francis was using a phrase from his first address to the so-called popular movements, groups of people from around the world who are working together to fight poverty and injustice. In his native Spanish, he refers to their rights to the three T’s: tierra, techo and trabajo, which translates handily as three L’s: land, lodging and labor.
To the slum dwellers of Nairobi today, he said, “I am here because I want you to know that your joys and hopes, your troubles and your sorrows, are not indifferent to me. I realize the difficulties which you experience daily! How can I not denounce the injustices which you suffer?”
The culture of poor neighbourhoods, the Pope reflected, is steeped in wisdom and “has very positive traits, such as solidarity, sacrifice, patience, and strength, those values which are grounded in the fact that each human being is more important than the god of money.” He thanked them for reminding us that another type of culture is possible.
“I want in first place to uphold these values which you practice, values which are not quoted in the stock exchange, are not subject to speculation, and have no market price,” he said, adding, “I congratulate you, I accompany you and I want you to know that the Lord never forgets you.”
The Holy Father reminded them that the path of Jesus began on the peripheries, and goes from the poor and with the poor toward others.
“To see these signs of good living that increase daily in your midst in no way entails a disregard for the dreadful injustice of urban exclusion,” he continued, saying, “These are wounds inflicted by minorities who cling to power and wealth, who selfishly squander while a growing majority is forced to flee to abandoned, filthy and run-down peripheries.”
The Argentine Pontiff noted that this becomes even worse when we see the unjust distribution of land which leads often to entire families having to pay excessive and unfair rents for utterly unfit housing.
“I am also aware of the serious problem posed by faceless ‘private developers’ who hoard areas of land and even attempt to appropriate the playgrounds of your children’s schools.” Another very serious problem, he said, is the lack of access to infrastructures and basic services, referring to electricity, roads, educational and medical facilities, and especially access to drinking water.
“Access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights,” he said. “To deny a family water, under any bureaucratic pretext whatsoever, is a great injustice, especially when one profits from this need.”
The Pontiff also lamented that this situation of indifference and hostility experienced by poor neighbourhoods is aggravated when violence spreads and criminal organizations, serving economic or political interests, use children and young people as “canon fodder” for their ruthless business affairs. He also thanked those women “who fight heroically” to protect their sons and daughters from these dangers.
The Pope urged authorities to embark upon the path of social inclusion, education, sport, community action, and the protection of families, “for this is the only guarantee of a peace that is just, authentic and enduring.”
“These realities which I have just mentioned are not a random combination of unrelated problems. They are a consequence of new forms of colonialism which would make African countries ‘parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel,'” he said, citing the document Ecclesia in Africa.
Francis has called this phenomenon “ideological colonization,” by which he refers to Western countries seeking to impose ideas contrary to the values of other countries, such as their respect for life or sexuality.
“Indeed, countries are frequently pressured to adopt policies typical of the culture of waste,” he said, “like those aimed at lowering the birth rate, which seek ‘to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized.'”
In this regard, Francis proposed “a renewed attention to the idea of a respectful urban integration, as opposed to elimination, paternalism, indifference or mere containment.” He stressed that we need integrated cities which belong to everyone. “We need to go beyond the mere proclamation of rights which are not respected in practice, to implementing concrete and systematic initiatives capable of improving the overall living situation, and planning new urban developments of good quality for housing future generations.”
“Let us together pray, work and commit ourselves to ensuring that every family has dignified housing, access to drinking water, a toilet, reliable sources of energy for lighting, cooking and improving their homes; that every neighbourhood has streets, squares, schools, hospitals, areas for sport, recreation and art; that basic services are provided to each of you; that your appeals and your pleas for greater opportunity can be heard; that all can enjoy the peace and security which they rightfully deserve on the basis of their infinite human dignity.”
The Pope then urged all Christians and pastors to “renew their missionary zeal, to take initiative in the face of so many situations of injustice, to be involved in their neighbours’ problems, to accompany them in their struggles, to protect the fruits of their communitarian labour and to celebrate together each victory, large or small.”
He acknowledged how much they are already doing, but underscored that this is not “just another task,” but rather “the most important task of all,” for the Gospel is addressed in a special way to the poor.
“Mungu awabariki! God bless you!” Pope Francis said in Swahili, before concluding, asking them to pray for him.
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