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Francis in Kenya: Joyful Music, Beautiful Images, Strong Words

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Pope makes five strong points to Kenyan youth, on prayer, tribalism, hope, and families

Before leaving for Uganda, Pope Francis set aside his prepared remarks to engage in an off-the-cuff exchange with the youth of Kenya, answering questions asked of him by two young people, Linette and Manuel, and discussing the importance of prayer, the destructive nature of corruption, the trouble with tribalism, and how we find hope. He closed his remarks by again referencing the importance of families.

On Prayer: “A person loses the best part of their being if they forgets to pray, because they feel omnipotent, because they do not feel the need to ask for help in the face of so many tragedies.” He went on to invite young people to see life’s difficulties not as something “that holds you back, destroys you, holds you prisoner”, but as an opportunity. “We do not live in heaven but on earth. And earth is full of problems. Not only is it full of problems but also of temptations towards evil. But as young people, you have the ability to make a choice. Do I want to be overcome by difficulties or do I want to see them as an opportunity to gain personal victory?

On Tribalism: “Tribalism destroys a nation, it means keeping your hands behind your back, with a stone in each one of them, ready to lob it at the other person!” Francis explained that tribalism is defeated by listening, asking one’s brother or sister why they are acting like that and listening to their response. You win with the heart and with a willingness for dialogue. “If you do not engage in dialogue, if you do not listen to each other, the tribalism that erodes society will always be there.”

The Pope invited some young people to approach him and asked all 70,000 present – including Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta and all the authorities, to stand and hold each other by the hand, as “a sign against tribalism, we are all one nation and this is how our hearts should be! Overcoming tribalism requires daily effort. It involves listening, it involves the heart, opening up to others, it involves the hands, shaking hands.”

On Corruption: Please, do not develop a taste for the sugar of corruption!” And if we see that others around us are corrupt, “as with everything, we need to be the first to change: if you do not want corruption in your life, in your country, start with yourself! If you do not start, neither will the person next to you. Corruption robs us of joy, of peace. A corrupt person does not live in peace.” “Whatever you steal through corrupt actions, stays here,” Francis explained, illustrating his point with a story about an elderly man who died and after his funeral, a woman said the coffin would not close because he wanted to take all the money he had stolen with him to the grave. But corruption has lasting consequences “in the hearts of men and women who are left wounded by your examples of corruption. The effects of what you should have done but did not remain. It remains in the form of children who are sick or hungry because the money you gained through corruption was intended for them. Corruption is not a path to life, it is a path toward death.”

To “Manuel the theologian”: “How do we know that God Our Father is there in life’s tragedies? Men and women the world over ask themselves this question and they find no answer. There is no answer but there is one path: look at the Son of God! God gave His Son to save us all. God Himself became a tragedy and allowed Himself be destroyed on the cross. When you feel despair, look at the cross: that is where God’s destruction lies, but it is a challenge to our faith, hope! Because history did not end here, but with the resurrection that brought renewal to us all…In my pocket, I always carry two things with me: A rosary to pray and something else which may seem strange: the story of God’s failure. It is a mini Via Crucis,”he said pulling out a small book. “Jesus suffered, from the minute they sentenced him to death, to the moment he was buried. I do what I can with these two things, but thanks to them I never lose hope.”

Families and framework: “There are abandoned children everywhere, They were abandoned at birth and are deprived of family affection. Defend the family, defend it always. Everywhere we see not only abandoned children but also abandoned elderly people who never receive a visit. How do we come out of this negative experience of abandonment and lack of love?”

The Pope said there is “only one remedy” for this. “Give what you have not received! If you did not receive understanding, be understanding with others. If you did not receive love, then love others. If you felt the pain of loneliness, approach those who are lonely. Flesh is cured with flesh! And God became flesh.”

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