People walk by a billboard welcoming Pope Francis ahead of his visit to Bangui, in the Central African Republic. The pope landed in Kenya on Nov. 25 for his first stop on a Nov. 25-30 visit to Africa. (Photo by Gianluigi Guercia/AFP)
With security concerns looming over his visit, Pope Francis arrived in Kenya Nov. 25 urging tolerance and respect among people of different religions and different ethnic groups.
Pope Francis was greeted at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by a small group of dancers, women ululating and President Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the nation's first president, for whom the airport is named. After the brief arrival ceremony Pope Francis traveled past hundreds of offices and factories where employees came out and lined the road to greet him.
The formal welcoming ceremony took place at Kenya's State House, where the pope met the president, government and civic leaders and members of the diplomatic corps.
In his speech, the pope focused on the values needed to consolidate democracy in Kenya and throughout Africa, starting with building trust and cohesion among members of the different ethnic and religious groups on the continent.
"Experience shows that violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust and the despair born of poverty and frustration," he said. "To the extent that our societies experience divisions — whether ethnic, religious or economic — all men and women of good will are called to work for reconciliation and peace, forgiveness and healing."
Kenyatta told the pope that colonization left Africa with artificial borders dividing communities, which has created tensions, but war and violence on the continent also has been fueled by "our own selfish politicization of our ethnic and religious identities."
With the U.N. climate change conference set to begin in Paris on Nov. 30, Pope Francis also spoke of the traditional African value of safeguarding creation and of the need to find "responsible models of economic development" that will not destroy the earth and the future.
"The grave environmental crisis facing our world demands an ever greater sensitivity to the relationship between human beings and nature," the pope said. "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."
On a continent where the population is predominantly young, but unemployment among young adults is high, Pope Francis also urged the Kenyan government officials and representatives of other countries to recognize that the young, too, are a gift from God to be assisted with care.
"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," the pope said.