Peacekeeping troops escort a humanitarian aid convoy in mid-February in Bangui, Central African Republic. Catholic Church leaders and Kenyan officials say that security is a top concern for Pope Francis’ Nov. 25-30 African visit. CNS photo/Legnan Koula, EPA

Security a top concern for Pope Francis’ Africa visit

By  Fredrick Nzwili, Religion News Service
  • November 11, 2015

NAIROBI, Kenya - From stitching 2,000 vestments to training large-scale security teams, Catholic Church leaders and Kenyan officials say they’re ready to host Pope Francis.

The pontiff’s highly anticipated Nov. 25-30 African visit will take him to Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic.

On Nov. 8, Kenya’s government said it would deploy 10,000 police officers and 10,000 members of the National Youth Service to maintain order.

Nearly 1.4 million Catholics are expected to descend on Nairobi for the papal Mass on Nov. 26. Francis is also expected to visit Nairobi’s Kangemi slum, address youth in a soccer stadium and discuss climate change with diplomats.

Francis will have a choice of three vestments for the Mass, two which have been designed with African culture in mind. The vestments for the Pope, as well as for the country’s bishops and priests, are being sewn by women from Dolly Craft Centre in Kangemi.

After threats to the country posed by Somalia’s al-Shabab militants, Kenya has put the Pope’s security high on the agenda. In April, militants killed 148 people in an attack on Garissa University College, where the majority of students are Christian.

“It is a very difficult choice for all of us to secure the Pope, while we let him meet the people,” said Fr. Stephen Okello, the priest co-ordinating the papal visit.

“We don’t want too much military presence that hides the people or that puts a barrier between the Pope and the people. The Pope wants to be with the people.”

Hosting Francis will cost Kenya an estimated $2 million. At a dinner attended by people of different faiths, the Church raised $1.2 million.

“This is an example of Kenyans coming together and underlining the integration and social cohesion our country needs,” said Bishop Alfred Rotich, chairman of the bishop’s conference.

Meanwhile, Archbishop Nestor Desire Nongo-Aziagbia of the Central African Republic said Muslims have promised to welcome the Pope. The country has been rocked by revenge attacks between the pro-Christian anti-Balaka and Muslim militant Seleka group since 2013.

“Besides the troublemakers, a good number of Muslims are looking forward to welcoming the Pope,” said Nongo-Aziagbia. “The leaders as well as the youth have made public pronouncement at that effect.

“In a way, they are relying on him to help sort out this crisis,” added the bishop.

The pontiff will visit Central Mosque in Bangui to meet with Muslim leaders.

Francis has also announced he will jumpstart the Jubilee Year of Mercy by opening the doors of Bangui’s cathedral, a sign of prayer and solidarity for the war-torn nation.

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