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Pope's First Mass in Kenya Draws Large Turnout

  • Jill Craig

Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he arrives for a Mass in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, Nov. 26, 2015.

Pope Francis waves to the faithful as he arrives for a Mass in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, Nov. 26, 2015.

Tens of thousands of people, including the nation's president, came out to the University of Nairobi on Thursday for a rain-soaked, open-air Mass led by Pope Francis.

Despite gray skies and heavy showers, Kenyans turned out in force to the university's sports grounds. Some said they had arrived as early as 3 a.m. to secure their places in line.

One man said he saw Pope John Paul II, the last pope to visit Kenya, in 1995. He and his wife woke up at 2 a.m. to make their way to the university grounds.

“So we came this early so that we would be able to attend this colorful and most blessed Mass,” he said.

Kenyans gather under umbrellas during a Mass by Pope Francis at the University of Nairobi, in Kenya, Nov. 26, 2015. The pope is making his first trip to Africa.

Kenyans gather under umbrellas during a Mass by Pope Francis at the University of Nairobi, in Kenya, Nov. 26, 2015. The pope is making his first trip to Africa.

In his homily, and through the assistance of an English interpreter, Pope Francis extolled family values, saying that Kenyan society has long been based on a "deep respect for the wisdom of the elderly and love for children."

“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," he said.

Francis also spoke directly to young people: "Let the great values of Africa's traditions, the wisdom and truth of God's word, and the generous idealism of your youth guide you in working to shape a society which is ever more just, inclusive and respectful of human dignity."

Pope Francis leaves after celebrating Mass at the campus of the University of Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 26, 2015, having told religious leaders they need to engage in dialogue to guard against the "barbarous" Islamic extremist attacks that have struck Kenya.

Pope Francis leaves after celebrating Mass at the campus of the University of Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 26, 2015, having told religious leaders they need to engage in dialogue to guard against the "barbarous" Islamic extremist attacks that have struck Kenya.

His sermon was well-received.

"I was very fine with Mass, I was very happy with what the pope tells us, so me, myself, I was very, very happy," Beatrice Adagi said.

Earlier in the day, the pope met with leaders of various religions, saying that the God they all seek to serve is a God of peace. Francis mentioned three recent large-scale terrorist attacks in Kenya — at Westgate Mall, Garissa University and Mandera — saying that God’s name must never be used to justify hatred and violence.

“All too often, young people are being radicalized in the name of religion to sow discord and fear, and to tear at the very fabric of our societies," he said.

In addition to trying to bridge Muslim-Christian rifts during his African tour, the pope is also highlighting environmental challenges.

On Thursday, during a visit to the U.N. Environment Program in Nairobi, he called for immediate action to stem climate change.

On Friday, the head of the Roman Catholic Church is to visit with the poor in Nairobi's Kangemi slum and visit with youths at Kasarani Stadium.

In his later stops, he is scheduled to visit a shrine to Christian martyrs in Uganda and to visit a mosque and a refugee camp in the Central African Republic.

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