Pope Francis has issued a strong appeal for traditional family values in his first public Mass in Africa.
In his homily, Francis called for Kenyans to support families and welcome children as a blessing. He urged them to resist practices “which foster arrogance in men, hurt or demean women and threaten the life of the innocent unborn”.
He also called for Kenyans to shape a more just society that looked out for the poor and to “reject everything that leads to prejudice and discrimination, for these things are not of God”.
Tens of thousands of faithful attended the Mass on the rain-soaked campus of the University of Nairobi. The celebration was marked by ululating Kenyan singers and traditional dancers.
Francis received a raucous welcome from the crowd as he zoomed around the grounds in his open-sided popemobile, some 10,000 police on hand for security. Some people had been there since 3am, braving heavy showers, while others lined up in queues three kilometres (1.8 miles) deep to get close to the venue.
“Kenyan society has long been blessed with strong family life, a deep respect for the wisdom of the elderly and love for children,” the Pope said.
“The health of any society depends on the health of its families.
“For their sake, and for the good of society, 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.”
“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 also stressed the importance of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist.
“We need these gifts of grace! Our world needs these gifts! Kenya needs these gifts! They strengthen us in fidelity amid adversity, when we seem to be walking ‘in the valley of the shadow of death’. But they also change our hearts. They make us more faithful disciples of the divine Master, vessels of mercy and loving kindness in a world wounded by selfishness, sin and division.”
Before the Mass Pope Francis told Christian and Muslim leaders that they had little choice but to engage in dialogue to guard against the “barbarous” Islamist attacks that have struck Kenya.
Nelly Ndunge, 29, who had been out since 5am in hopes of getting a glimpse of the Pope, said: “I am a Catholic and I believe he is godsend.” She said Francis’s visit to Kenya was a blessing because it would renew her faith — and had boosted her printing business: she said she had already sold nearly 3,000 copies of a 2016 calendar with the pope’s portrait on it.
Pope Francis is to head later today to the UN regional headquarters in Nairobi to give a speech on the environment.
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