Pope relishes opportunity to interact with East Africans, security concerns complicate visit

Pope Francis with President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda at the UN, New York this September.

Pope Francis with President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda at the UN, New York this September.

Days before his forthcoming trip to Kenya and Uganda the Holy Father Pope Francis is sending a message of hope and peace to the people of Kenya and Uganda as he looks forward to sharing the gospel with the East African people in particular and with the millions of Africans who will keenly follow his trip.

“As I prepare to visit Kenya and Uganda, I send a word of greetings and friendship to you and your families. I look forward to this time we will have together,” Pope Francis said in his statement.

The Pope says his highly anticipated visit to the two East African nations will aim at sharing a message hope, reconciliation and peace.

“I am coming as minister of the gospel to proclaim the love of Jesus Christ and his message of reconciliation, forgiveness and peace,” his statement adds.

In Nairobi, the Pope will address United Nations Staff, meet and interact with over 1,000 slum residents, and speak to thousands of Kenyan youth at Kasarani Stadium.

Ahead of his 6-day Africa trip (Nov. 25-30), the Pope has appealed to African leaders to be sensitive to, and address the needs of the poor and the less fortunate members of society.

He intends to celebrate Martyrs day in Uganda, and meet with political and opinion leaders before concluding his first African trip in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR) where he intends to visit a Mosque and a refugee camp.

Meanwhile, the homosexual community in both Kenya and Uganda is hoping the Pope urges leaders and the general public in these two countries to refrain from harassing, torturing, and persecuting and prosecuting gays and lesbians.

“I see this particular pope as more progressive but I wouldn’t call him an ally like (President) Obama,” Frank Mugisha a prominent gay leader in Uganda told The Associated Press. Mugisha added “I would like to see his position very clearly because what he said came as a by-the-way when he said he can’t judge.” When asked about his stand on gays and lesbians within the catholic church a few months ago Pope Francis replied “Who am I to judge?”.

The Pope will spend one and a half days in each of the three African countries he is scheduled to visit and he will also lead mass with the faithful in all these countries.

As he always does before traveling abroad, the Pope urged the faithful to pray for him and wish him God’s blessings on this journey.

The Pope’s trip follows those of his two predecessors who visited various countries on the African continent including these same countries during their papacy; Pope Paul VI visited Uganda in 1969, whereas, Pope John Paul II visited 42 African nations during his tenure including Central African Republic in 1975, Kenya in 1980, 1985 and 1995, Uganda in 1993.

The Pope’s trip poses an enormous security challenge to Kenya, Uganda and especially the conflict-torn CAR, recent terrorist attacks around the world have also heightened safety concerns during the Holy Father’s visit given he loves to abandon his popemobile  to mingle with the crowds. Sources say the Pope might even shorten his CAR visit to a few hours.