Africa prepares to welcome Pope Francis

Kenya prepares to welcome Pope Francis
Kenya prepares to welcome Pope Francis

The apostolic visit to Africa that starts today will be the first time that Jorge Mario Bergoglio has ever set foot on African soil. However Pope Francis, on this, his 11th international trip, will follow in the footsteps of the Pontiffs who preceded him. Blessed Paul VI went to Uganda in 1969 to consecrate the Sanctuary of Namugongo; and Pope St John Paul II’s many journeys to the continent included three visits to Kenya (1980, 1985 and 1995) and one to the Central African Republic (1985).

Pope Francis has been invited by the presidents of Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic and their bishops' conferences. He will use the opportunity of his apostolic visit to speak of forgiveness, peace, dialogue and reconciliation, in an area of the world that has experienced a history of violence, war and divisions. 

The situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) is particular volatile, but the Pope has been determined to visit the country that has been battered by Civil War. About a day and a half will be dedicated to each of the three countries, and Pope Francis has insisted that all of his travels within the capital cities will be by the uncovered popemobile or by unarmoured car.

A more serene futureUganda's President Museveni invited Pope Francis when he met him in the Vatican last year

The Kenyan Government has declared tomorrow a public holiday, when the papal Mass will take place in the University of Nairobi. Earlier this week, Pope Francis sent two video messages to the peoples that he is about to visit. Addressing the young people of Kenya and Uganda, he said they “are your greatest resource and our most promising hope for a future of solidarity, peace and progress”. He said that he hoped his visit to the Central African Republic would “contribute to healing the wounds and open a more serene future” for its people. His visit to the CAR will begin in the capital city of Bangui, where he will open the Holy Door to mark the start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Security will be tight throughout the papal visit. Up to 1.5 million people are expected to attend the papal Mass in Nairobi and 10,000 police officers on the streets will be complemented by a further 10,000 members of the government’s youth service. The recent attacks in Paris are leading to tighter security, with the Vatican’s security chief, Domenico Giani, travelling to the CAR to assess the situation before the Pope’s arrival.

'The Pope wants to be with his people'

During the Pope’s 26 hours in Bangui, the capital of the CAR, his schedule includes a visit to a mosque in a volatile part of the city. But Fr Stephen Okello who is coordinating the papal visit said Pope Francis was determined to give the people access to his visit. “We don’t want too much military presence that hides the people or that puts a barrier between the Pope and the people,” he said. “The Pope wants to be with the people.”

Over the course of his tight schedule, Pope Francis is scheduled to deliver 19 addresses – almost all of them in Italian with translations in the local languages. The Vatican Press Office has issued the full itinerary for Pope Francis’ visit to Africa. And links to his video messages to the people of Kenya, Uganda and the Central African are available on the website of L’Osservatore Romano.