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Nairobi's Conservative Catholics Prepare for Papal Visit

  • Jill Craig

Singing, dancing, and praying are all normal functions of Sunday mass at Nairobi’s Holy Family Minor Basilica. But a larger-than-life Pope Francis cutout now stands watch at the altar, reminding parishioners that a special visitor will arrive next week.

Pope Francis will travel to Kenya on November 25 to kick off his first Africa tour, and the excitement is building.

Since being elected Supreme Pontiff in March 2013, Pope Francis has been shaking up the church with his progressive views on everything from homosexuality to divorce. He has made headlines for his comments on relaxing restrictions for divorced Catholics, giving possible support for married priests, and urging more compassion for gay people.

Rodgers Mwendwa is a recent university graduate and Nairobi resident. He is excited that the Pope chose Kenya to visit first.

“Actually, we are waiting a message of hope from the Pope, from how he conducts himself,” Mwendwa said. “I think he will bring a good impact and a positive attitude to people and we should embrace what he’s bringing to Kenyans because he’s our role model.”

FILE - Pope Francis

FILE - Pope Francis

How will Pope's views play?

In the past decade, Kenya has seen breakaway orders of Catholic priests who decided to get married. Francis has not condoned this but he has reportedly said the Vatican is looking into the question of married priests.

Adenaide Tendwa said she didn't believe priests should be allowed to get married.

“Because it’s better for someone, leading others, spiritually, being single," she said. "Just the way he is. You know, if you say he is going to get married, some things will come in. He needs to take care of the family, the interests of the family, the wife and everything. I think spiritually, it will affect.”

Samuel Gitau agreed.

“When they marry, I feel they will not be able to concentrate in the church affairs, yeah,” he said.

'Greater role' seen for women

Francis has said he wants to see a "greater role" for women in Catholicism but that he is against ordaining women priests.

Church usher Josephine Kivuva agreed with that position.

“Because the men are the ones who have been priests up till now, and they have done a pretty good job," she said. "And also, I think the disciples that Jesus chose, when he was here on Earth, they were all men. Particularly maybe for a reason, for us to take as an example.”

But Mwendwa said women should get the opportunity, too.

“Yes, because in the kingdom of God, even women should have some part to play,” he said.

Pope, followers differ on homosexuality

It is on the topic of homosexuality that Pope Francis may most diverge with church members in Africa. While the pope says marriage should remain an institution between a man and a woman, he has not categorically ruled out civil unions. And he has urged love and mercy for gay people.

Kenya, on the other hand, outlines its stance clearly: Homosexuality is illegal.

Church members said they didn't condone it. Tendwa said that "in the Bible we read, we need to get married and bring up children. Now when you bring homosexuality, that one will not be having a family, yeah.”

But Catholics in Nairobi said they were ready to set differences of opinion aside.

“When the pope gives us direction, we need to follow it, according to the tradition of the church,” Kivuva said.

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