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The people's pope: Kenyan atheists seek audience with Pope Francis

By Moses Nyamori | November 10th 2015
AIK President Harrison Mumia

NAIROBI: Pope Francis enthusiasm is hitting climax among Kenyan Catholic faithful as the pontiff is set to make his maiden visit to the country on November 25.

Of sharp focus, however, is the kind of attention and love his somewhat revolutionary approach to sensitive issues has attracted from across people of different faiths and even atheists, rightly earning him 'the people's pope' title.

The Pope's September tour to the United States of America was of great significance not only to the Catholic Church but to Christianity as he tried to rejuvenate the face of progressive religion devoid of intolerance.

The Holy Father held a multi-faith congregation at the 9/11 Memorial Museum and was joined by leaders of the Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish and Orthodox Christian faiths, sending a strong message of unity and peace promotion.

He told the over 500 religious leaders: "I trust that our presence together will be a powerful sign of our shared desire to be a force for reconciliation, peace and justice in this community and throughout the world. For all our differences and disagreements, we can live in a world of peace."

This powerful and liberal message travelled far and wide. In Kenya, as the leader of the Catholic Church prepares to visit, both believers and non-believers are positioning themselves to meet him and share raft of issues, some not matters religion.

Atheists in Kenya (AIK) say the visit is of immense significance to them and hope the Pope will use it "to promote a liberal and progressive approach to issues that the Catholic Church in Kenya has perpetually opposed".

In an open letter delivered to Cardinal John Njue seeking audience with the first Latin American and Spanish-speaking Catholic leader, the group described Francis as "the most liberal and open-minded pope that the Catholic Church has had in the recent times".
They want to meet him in person and discuss some very sensitive issues, some somewhat bound to stir controversy.

AIK President Harrison Mumia said the group wants Pope Francis to endorse abortion as it is the only way for women to enjoy their sexuality: "Unless the Kenyan woman can freely decide whether to continue a pregnancy, it is impossible for them to control their lives, to enjoy their sexuality, and to participate fully in society."

He said half of pregnancies in Kenya are unintended arguing that no one should have to remain pregnant or become a mother against their will.

Atheists also want the Pontiff to promote contraception use among Kenyans: "The Catholic Church has had a firm but unreasonable position on contraception use. We find this position outrageously retrogressive, especially in a third world country like Kenya."

Should they succeed to meet the Holy Father, they would also want him to give leadership on the controversial gay rights issue.

The visit, they hope, will also help improve tolerance among believers and those who do not believe in God. "Christians and Muslims in Kenya are very intolerant to non-believers. Our meeting with him will send a strong message for those who believe in God to be accommodative," said Mumia.

During the visit, the Pope is scheduled to meet Christians, Muslims, Hindus and traditional leaders.

Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims (Supkem) Chairman Abdulghafur El-Busaidy said they have written to the Catholic Church to meet the Pope.

The meeting is of great significance, Prof El-Busaidy said, as it will promote tolerance and better understanding between Muslims and Christians.

He said Muslim leaders are for peace and will use the opportunity to send a strong message of understanding among Kenyans professing different religious beliefs.

El-Busaidy acknowledged existence of a cordial relationship between Muslims and the Catholics Church saying they usually receive message of good will during Ramadhan celebrations from Vatican.
"We will accord him a warm reception and use the opportunity to discuss several issues touching on religion and seek guidance on good leadership," said Prof El-Busaidy.

On Pope's message to Christians about giving to the poor, El-Busaidy said, it perfectly resonates with the Islamic teachings.

The Holy Father in his recent visits told Christians to "use their heads and to basically be good people who give more than they take, care about the environment and help those who cannot help themselves".

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