Pope Francis visited a Nairobi slum on Friday, calling such areas “wounds inflicted” by a wealthy and powerful elite and urging Africa’s governments to do more to lift their people up from poverty.
The pope, making his first visit to the continent, has championed the plight of the poor both in public declarations and his own way of life, shunning the institutional perks of the Vatican.
Even before he became Latin America’s first pope in 2013, he was known as the “the slum bishop” because of his frequent visits to the shantytowns of Buenos Aires.
Kenya is the first stop on his Africa tour, which also takes him to Uganda and the Central African Republic, a grindingly poor nation riven by Muslim-Christian sectarian conflict.
While calling for religious dialogue and appealing for steps to address climate change when he visited the U.N. offices in Nairobi, Francis has regularly returned to his concern about inequality and poverty in his homilies and speeches.
On his last day in Kenya, the pope visited Nairobi’s Kangemi district, a neighbourhood of potholed roads, open sewers and jerry-built shacks for homes, lying a few hundred metres from smart apartment blocks and gated residential compounds.
Addressing slum dwellers, charity workers and clergy in St. Joseph the Worker Church, the pope spoke of the “dreadful injustice of urban exclusion” represented in such poor areas.
“These are wounds inflicted by minorities who cling to power and wealth, who selfishly squander while a growing majority is forced to flee to abandoned, filthy and run-down peripheries,” he said.
DEBT TO THE POOR
He criticised “faceless private developers who hoard areas of land and even attempt to appropriate the playgrounds of your schools” but he said communal values in poor districts showed there was an alternative culture to the “god of money.”
Children from a school run by the Catholic nuns and priests sang for the pope in the simple church of cinder blocks and wood, built across the road from a row of homes made of corrugated metal.
Francis said one of biggest challenges was a lack of basic amenities. “Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water,” he said, adding no “bureaucratic pretext” should deny a family clean water.
The pope said Africa was not alone in facing what he called a “new colonialism”, a theme he has addressed in travels elsewhere and which he says includes demands of agencies for austerity that most hurts workers and the poor.
Welcoming the pope Musonde Kivuva, archbishop of Mombasa and president of Kenya’s branch of the Catholic charity Caritas, thanked the pope for setting an example of humility with his simple life and for his calls for change.
“More can be done and should be done in all our slums. We do not need to wait for the Holy Father to come,” he said.
Later on Friday, he travels to Uganda, which like Kenya been struck by Islamist militant attacks. On Sunday, he flies to the Central African Republic, where dozens of people have been killed in violence since September.