Pope Francis brought smiles this evening to Kenyan authorities and members of the diplomatic corps as he finished his address at an official welcoming ceremony with a prayer in Swahili: Mungu abariki Kenya — God bless Kenya.
The Pope arrived in Nairobi for the first leg of his six-day Africa trip a bit earlier than scheduled this evening, shortly after 4:30 local time.
After a festive welcome at the airport, the Holy Father was officially welcomed in a ceremony at the State House.
“Kenya is a young and vibrant nation, a richly diverse society which plays a significant role in the region,” the Pope said in his English-language address.
He spoke of Kenya’s efforts to shape a democracy, one “shared by many other African nations.”
“Like Kenya,” Francis said, “they too are working to build, on the solid foundations of mutual respect, dialogue and cooperation, a multiethnic society which is truly harmonious, just and inclusive.”
The Holy Father emphasized the importance of young people, a theme he often returns to in his travels and in Rome.
“The young are any nation’s most valuable resource. To protect them, to invest in them and to offer them a helping hand, is the best way we can ensure a future worthy of the wisdom and spiritual values dear to their elders, values which are the very heart and soul of a people.”
He also praised the Kenyan respect for natural resources and a “culture of conservation.”
“The grave environmental crisis facing our world demands an ever greater sensitivity to the relationship between human beings and nature. We have a responsibility to pass on the beauty of nature in its integrity to future generations, and an obligation to exercise a just stewardship of the gifts we have received,” he said. “These values are deeply rooted in the African soul. In a world which continues to exploit rather than protect our common home, they must inspire the efforts of national leaders to promote responsible models of economic development.”
Citing a theme of his encyclical Laudato Si’, the Bishop of Rome noted the link between the protection of the environment and “the building of a just and equitable social order.”
In this effort, he said that “the pursuit of the common good must be a primary goal,” noting that poverty and frustration are at the root of violence, conflict and terrorism.
And he called the social leaders and government authorities of his audience to “work with integrity and transparency for the common good, and to foster a spirit of solidarity at every level of society.”
“I ask you in particular to show genuine concern for the needs of the poor, the aspirations of the young, and a just distribution of the natural and human resources with which the Creator has blessed your country,” he said.
The Pope concluded by referring to a tradition in Kenya of schoolchildren planting trees for posterity.
“May this eloquent sign of hope in the future, and trust in the growth which God gives, sustain all of you in your efforts to cultivate a society of solidarity, justice and peace on the soil of this country and throughout the great African continent. I thank you once more for your warm welcome, and upon you and your families, and all the beloved Kenyan people, I invoke the Lord’s abundant blessings.
“Mungu abariki Kenya! God bless Kenya!”
Tomorrow, the Pontiff will begin his day with an interreligious and ecumenical meeting at the apostolic nunciature in Nairobi, which will be followed by a Mass on the campus of the University of Nairobi. After the Mass, Francis will meet with clergy, men and women religious, and seminarians at the athletic field of St Mary’s School, before visiting the United Nations Office in Nairobi.
Friday morning, he will visit the poor neighborhood of Kangemi in Nairobi, meet with young people in Kasarani Stadium, and meet with the nation’s bishops. Then, there will be the farewell ceremony at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport before he takes off for the second leg of his visit, to Uganda. After Uganda, the Pope will head to the Central African Republic, before his return to Rome on Monday.
On ZENIT’s Web page: