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VAS

Pope Francis receives State honour in Kenya

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his government Wednesday mounted a special reception for the Holy Father on his maiden visit to Kenya and Africa at State House Nairobi.

In recognition of his guest as the Head of State of Vatican City State, the Kenyan military hosted a parade for the Pontiff and the Kenya Navy honoured him with a 21-gun salute.

The master of ceremony had said: "It is important that you know there will be a gun salute so that you are all prepared for the boom sound when it finally comes."

The canon boomed. The air exploded. The guests flinched. The ground shook. And some guests wanted to hide under their seats.

"You are safe ladies and gentlemen. It is the 21-gun salute... to my left you can see some smoke...you can never get used to that sound," the MC said.

The military band played the Vatican anthem first, then the Kenya National Anthem when the Pope and his host arrived. They both stood alert.

But the Pontiff did not inspect a guard of honour as expected. Instead, the Kenya Defence Force (KDF) paraded themselves passing in front of the two Heads of State.

When the President arrived at State House at 5.25pm and the National Anthem was being played, there was a moment of apprehension in the huge dome with the State guests.

Kiswahili adage

A handful stood. The others just sat. The MC noted the confusion and said: "The law allows us to sit (even with the Anthem playing) because we are inside a building".

In the meantime, the visitors from all walks of life were enjoying light meals courtesy of State House, perhaps literally expressing the ardent Kiswahili adage "Mgeni Njoo, Mwenyeji apone".

At 5.42pm the Pope arrived at State House in a Honda Ballade with the Vatican flag mounted on it.

Photojournalists jostled for space to get the best shot of the Pontiff as his entourage arrived at State House.

The huge dome at State House was full of dignitaries specially invited through the office of the government receptionist.

Retired President Daniel arap Moi strode to his seat and just behind him, was former First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta. Former President Mwai Kibaki was also there to witness the historic moment.

Conspicuously missing were Opposition chiefs Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka.

A college of Catholic bishops and other religious leaders sat pensively, listening keenly to the words of the Holy Father during his address to the nation.

Governors, Senators, MPs, MCAs, the Chief Justice and Senate Speaker Ekwe Ethuro were also there to hear the words of both President Uhuru Kenyatta and Pope Francis.

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