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No pomp as Pope Francis goes ‘home’ to Kangemi

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Daniel Wesangula | October 25th 2015

On the 27th day of November, Pope Francis will leave his Popemobile and step onto the dusty, sloppy path that pulls one towards the blue gates of St Joseph’s The Worker Catholic Parish in Kangemi.

The gate to the compound will not be opened by a heavily armed secret service agent, or an Italian carabinieri, but the guard on duty who will not even be having a baton, or any appendage that can be used as a weapon to ward off an attacker.

Even the cracked wooden ramp over a half-metre trench will not be touched up.

The concrete floor within the church compound will neither be polished nor waxed.

Pope Francis will walk into the church where parishioners say, he will be presented with a certain kind of richness that only the Kangemi parish can offer.

“We do not plan on doing anything extra ordinary but we are ready to host him,” Peter Magu, the chair of the Catholic Men Association who is also a member of the committee tasked with handling the papal visit, told Sunday Magazine.

“It will be a great day,” Magu says. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we shall be part of history.”

Pope Francis’ three-day visit to Kenya will start on November 25. This will not be the first time that a Pope will be visiting Kenya.

Pope John Paul II, who passed away in April 2005, visited Kenya in May 1980, in August 1985 and in September 1995.

During his stay, Pope Francis will address members of the diplomatic corps, meet senior government officials at United Nations Office in Nairobi grounds and hold talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Pope Francis’ itinerary will include an inter-religious meeting with Christian, Muslim, Hindu and traditional leaders.

He will also give a general address to Kenyans, meet with a number of young people, and celebrate Mass.

Kenya is the first stop in Pope Francis’ maiden trip to Africa. He will visit Uganda and Central African Republic too.

But, before he is done with his Africa tour, he will have to deal with the small issue of the Kangemi riches.

“We will not give him gold or silver,” Magu says.

“Our richness will be in the form of the congregants that this church was set up to reach.

“We will have the poor, the sick, the needy...all of whom make up our church seated right next to him.

“It is they that we will present as our riches. And the Pope will speak a blessing over them.”

Magu and the other members of the organising committee do not know the reasons why Pope Francis chose to visit their parish.

Perhaps, though, it has something to do with the Pope’s order and by extension, the order that the parish serves under. Pope Francis is a Jesuit priest.

Born in Argentina, Pope Francis is the first Latin American — and the first Jesuit — to lead the Roman Catholic Church.

The Jesuits, also known as the Society of Jesus is a male order of the Catholic Church, with an estimated 19,000 members worldwide.

It was established in 16th Century Europe as a missionary order, and members swear vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

“That is what we do here in Kangemi,” Magu says.

“We try to give hope to the poor and the downtrodden and since his inauguration, Pope Francis has shown that these are the ideals that he cherishes too.

“So in a sense I would say that he is actually coming home.”

Data from the Kenya Bureau of Statistics shows that the greater informal settlement of Kangemi  ranks tenth in terms of the number of unemployed youth as well as low income earners staring at drug abuse, sexual violence, insecurity and illiteracy in the face.

The 30-year old Kangemi Parish is the only Jesuit-led parish in Kenya. It currently has four priests led by Father Pascal Mwinjage. All of them live within the church compound.

The church’s high ceilings, the mahogany benches, the rafters are all from that original workmanship three decades ago. At the front of the church are three red-cushioned armchairs.

“He will sit on one of these, flanked by Bishops Korir and Kivuva,” Magu says. “Everyone else will sit on the benches. We will have no VIP sections. The people will be free to sit wherever they want.”

During his tour of the United States last month, Pope Francis turned down a lunch date with the US Congress and instead chose to dine with the homeless people of Washington DC.

Although he will freely mingle with the less-privileged, he will also schedule a meeting at State House Nairobi, where he will spend half-an-hour with President Kenyatta, and all the foreign diplomats in Kenya who have been invited to the State House meeting.

Pope Francis will be in Kangemi on the final day of his three-day visit.

The Kangemi visit, plus another visit to Uganda’s House of Charity in Nalukolongo and a tour of a refugee camp and a meeting with Muslims in Central Africa Republic during the five-day African tour is characteristic of Pope Francis’ humility and style of dining with the poor, something that has endeared him to many.

In all countries that the Head of the Catholic Church will be visiting, there is a spot for a meeting with youth, the clergy and a meeting with the bishops.

This is the second time this year that Catholics in Kenya and the region will get another chance to reconnect with their faith.

In May, Sister Irene Stephano was beatified at an event held at Dedan Kimathi University of Technology in Nyeri.

Her relics are preserved in a glass and bullet proof sarcophagus which was installed at Our Lady of Consolata Catholic Cathedral in Nyeri town.

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