NAIROBI, Kenya – (AA) The Kenyan government has confirmed that Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, would make the East African country the first stop of his maiden tour of Africa in November.
“I am happy to note that the president has written to His Holiness Pope Francis expressing great delight over his pastoral visit to Kenya,” Manoah Esipisu, a spokesman for President Uhuru Kenyatta, announced last week.
“It is significant to note that His Holiness chose Kenya as his first stop during his maiden visit to Africa,” he asserted.
“This pastoral visit is important to Kenya,” Esipisu added, “as it will promote national healing, dialogue and peaceful coexistence.”
According to State House, the seat of government in Nairobi, the pope will also visit Uganda and the Central African Republic during his tour.
Canon Rosemary Mbogo, chairman of Kenya’s National Council of Churches, told Anadolu Agency that the pope’s visit would serve to promote peace and reconciliation in Kenya, which has recently been rocked by a series of terrorist attacks carried out by Somalia’s Al-Shabaab militant group.
“Pope Francis was among the first people to send a message of condolence to Kenya following the Garissa University attack,” Mbogo said, referring to a deadly April attack in the country’s north that left close to 150 people – mostly students – dead.
“His visit will promote peace and cohesion,” he added. “As a Christian in Kenya, I’m looking forward to listening to his message of peace and mercy.”
Bishop Benard Chitayi, for his part, a Kenyan expert on religious issues, said he hoped November’s papal visit would serve the cause of interfaith understanding.
“Kenya has witnessed attacks on Christians in recent years by those who profess to be Muslims,” Chitayi said.
“I expect the pope to reconcile Muslims and Christians during his visit because, since time immemorial, Christians and Muslims have lived in peace,” the expert added.
Chitayi went on to voice hope that, during his visit, the head of the Vatican would “promote religious freedom and champion the protection of religious minorities.”
Everyday Kenyans on the streets of Nairobi, meanwhile, appeared no less excited about the pontiff’s upcoming visit.
“This [visit] means so much to me; to finally see the pope and listen to his message,” Mary Wanjiru a 28-year-old accountant – and practicing Catholic – told Anadolu Agency.
“I’m sure Christians from all over Africa will visit Kenya just because of the pope’s visit,” she said.
Rosemary Auma, a student at Mount Kenya University, voiced similar sentiments.
“Wherever the pope travels, peace always follows,” she told Anadolu Agency. “I pray that he will bring peace in November, as we really need it in our country.”
Pope Francis isn’t the only globally-recognized figure planning to visit the East African country.
State House has also confirmed that U.S. President Barack Obama would be visiting Kenya next month, where he will chair the sixth Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES).
“President Obama’s visit to Kenya this July is not only a homecoming, it’s an indication that – in the terrain of global politics – Kenya matters,” Esipisu, the presidential spokesman, said.
The respective visits by the two world leaders to Kenya, he added, constituted proof of Kenya’s rising stature on the world stage.
The spokesman went on to assert, however, that certain local politicians were planning to disrupt the two high-profile visits for their own political ends.
“I must warn that the global attention on Kenya ahead of the Obama visit, the GES and the visit by his Holiness will attract attention-seeking politicians,” Esipisu said.
“These [politicians] are likely to engage in schemes that depict the government as corrupt and incompetent,” he added, going on urge Kenyans “to remain vigilant and reject these politicians’ self-seeking dramas.”
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