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Francis in Kenya: A Focus on Family, Life Issues, Inter-Religious Friendship

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Joyful Mass follows serious talk on terrorism

Andrea Tornielli, for Vatican Insider, in Nairobi.

At his first meeting on the second day of his visit to Africa, Pope Francis met with leaders of other Christian denominations and other faiths, driving home the fact that the name of God “must never be used to justify hatred and violence.” Interreligious dialogue “is not a luxury” it is “essential,” he explained.

“The God whom we seek to serve is a God of peace. His holy Name must never be used to justify hatred and violence,” Pope Francis said this this morning at his meeting with leaders of Christian Churches and of other religions in the Apostolic Nunciature in Nairobi. Evangelical Christians, Methodists, Pentecostals and members of the African Inland Church sat beside leaders of the traditional religion of Animism and the Muslim faith. It was a chance for the pope to stress his condemnation of God’s name being used as a pretext for terrorist acts.

“I know that the barbarous attacks on Westgate Mall, Garissa University College and Mandera,” Francis said, recalling the three horrific attacks that bloodied the country over the past three years, “are fresh in your minds. All too often young people are being radicalized in the name of religion to sow discord and fear and to tear at the very fabric of our societies. How important it is that we be seen as prophets of peace, peacemakers who invite others to live in peace, harmony and mutual respect! May the Almighty touch the hearts of those who engage in this violence and grant his peace to our families and communities.”

Later in the day, celebrating a joyful Mass at Central Park, opposite the University of Nairobi, Pope Francis called on people “to resist practices which foster arrogance in men, hurt or demean women, and threaten the life of the innocent unborn.”

“The health of any society depends on the health of its families.” Pope Francis pronounced his homily in Italian, with an interpreter giving a consecutive translation into English. This morning’s Mass was the most crowded celebration expected to take place in Kenya. Central Park, opposite the University of Nairobi, can hold up to a million people. People kept on coming during the ceremony: the heavy morning downpours, the streets which had turned into mud bogs and traffic jams, made it all the more hard to reach the venue where the mass took place. There was a joyous atmosphere, President Uhruru Kenyatta sat in the first row and typical African songs were sung. Pope Francis arrived in the open-topped Popemobile. Next to the choirmaster was a little boy with a green top who was imitating him, pretending he was conducting the choir. Many women and children were present.

“For the good of society,” the pope explained, “our faith in God’s word calls us to support families in their mission in society, to accept children as a blessing for our world, and to defend the dignity of each man and woman, for all of us are brothers and sisters in the one human family.” He explained that “in obedience to God’s word, we are also called to resist practices which foster arrogance in men, hurt or demean women, and threaten the life of the innocent unborn. We are called to respect and encourage one another, and to reach out to all those in need. Christian families have this special mission: to radiate God’s love and to spread the life-giving waters of his Spirit. This is especially important today, for we are seeing the growth of new deserts created by a culture of materialism and indifference to others.”

The pope sent out a special appeal to the young people of Kenya: “Let the great values of Africa’s traditions, the wisdom and truth of God’s word, and the generous idealism of your youth guide you in working to shape a society which is ever more just, inclusive and respectful of human dignity. May you always be concerned for the needs of the poor, and reject everything that leads to prejudice and discrimination, for these things, we know, are not of God.”

Finally, Pope Francis reminded those present of the task each Christian has “to be missionary disciples, men and women who radiate the truth, beauty and life-changing power of the Gospel. Men and women who are channels of God’s grace, who enable his mercy, kindness and truth to become the building blocks of a house that stands firm. A house which is a home, where brothers and sisters at last live in harmony and mutual respect, in obedience to the will of the true God, who has shown us, in Jesus, the way to that freedom and peace for which all hearts long.”

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