Huge crowds braved Thursday’s early morning rains hailed as “God’s blessing” to take part in Pope Francis’ first open-air mass in Africa, singing and dancing in the centre of the Kenyan capital.
The mass at the University of Nairobi grounds is the Pontiff’s first major appearance in public in highly-anticipated three-day visit to Kenya.
Over 100,000 people, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, first Lady Margaret Kenyatta, Opposition leaders, some sixty cardinals, archbishops and bishops from across East Africa, and 9,000 priests attended the papal mass.
Ahead of the mass, His Holiness pope Francis met with religious leaders of different faiths, where he spoke out against the radicalization of young people and barbaric attacks carried out in the name of religion.
Ahead of the mass, Francis met with religious leaders of different faiths, where he spoke out against the radicalization of young people and the “barbarous attacks” carried out in the name of religion. The pontiff said young people all over the world are being radicalized in the name of religion to sow discord and fear, and to tear at the very fabric of our societies.
He referred to terrorists’ attacks on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall, Garissa University and Mandera attacks that left several Kenyans dead saying the attacks are still fresh in people’s mind. Security was tight as thousands of security officers have been deployed and roads closed to ensure security as the pontiff makes his first visit to Kenya on a six-day trip which will also take him to Uganda and Central African Republic (CAR).
Pope Francis arrived in Nairobi on Wednesday evening to a joyous welcome by choirs and traditional dancers. Speaking on Wednesday at state house, alongside President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Holy Father urged leaders to work with integrity and transparency and fight inequality.
Elsewhere, several roads remain closed in Nairobi to allow the smooth flow of traffic for the Pope’s entourage. Sections of some roads from Bunyala roundabout to the Museum Hill overpass remain closed to enable thousands of Catholic faithful, including dignitaries and the President, to attend a Papal open-air mass at the University of Nairobi.
Waiyaki way, Ojijo road, Harambee and Parliament roundabout too will remain closed while vehicles from Ngong road will not go past the NHIF building.
Globe Cinema roundabout will be open towards Tom Mboya Street, River Road and Kijabe Street but no vehicles will be allowed past Lilian Towers. Commuters headed to the CBD through the Thika Superhighway will not go past Forest road.
Meanwhile, Leaders put aside their political differences and joined together for the historic mass presided over by Pope Francis at the Nairobi University Grounds. The leaders included President Uhuru Kenyatta, deputy President William Ruto, Opposition leader Raila Odinga and retired Presidents Mwai Kibaki among others.
The mass was also attended by faithful from foreign countries including strife-torn Burundi. Burundi is not in the Pope’s itinerary. In his mass , the Pope emphasized on the need for harmonious co-existence and understanding amongst various communities in the world.
In addition, Catholic Bishops in Kenya have expressed their profound appreciation for the three-day visit by Pope Francis. The religious leaders said the visit by the Pontiff was a great honour for the country.
Speaking on behalf of Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops during the Pope’s inter-religious meeting earlier this morning, President of the Commission for Religious Dialogue Mons Kairo said the meeting would cement unity between different faiths.
He said that Kenya has a very diverse religious background, observing that such a joint meeting was of great significance to religion not only in Kenya but to the world. The Catholic Church also expressed their gratitude to other religious leaders who honoured the invitation.