Pope ends Kenya visit defending rights of poor, denouncing tribalism

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) — The
wealth of residents of the poorest neighborhoods ringing big cities around the
world will never be quoted on the stock exchange, even though their wealth gives
life and joy to millions of people, Pope Francis said.

The pope began his day Nov. 27
in Nairobi’s Kangemi neighborhood, usually referred to as a slum. It features
tiny dwellings made of cinder block, tin or reclaimed boards. The homes are
jumbled together with dirt roads and paths running between them.

Residents were thrilled not only
that the pope would take time to visit them, but that the government fixed
several of the roads, installed some street lights and unblocked some water
pipes in preparation for the pope’s visit.

Exact figures vary, but between
55 percent and 65 percent of Nairobi’s population live in the slums. Many have
no drinking water, electricity, sewage system or regular garbage collection.

Irish Mercy Sister Mary Killeen,
who has ministered in Kenya for three decades, told Pope Francis that fires —
especially from kerosene lamps and stoves — and floods are a danger. Evictions
are frequent since the people do not own the land on which their shacks are

At a meeting in the Jesuit-run
St. Joseph the Worker Church, Pamella Akwede, a resident, told the pope, “People
in informal settlements live together as family, in unity and solidarity,”
which is evident in the celebrations of births, weddings and funerals.

“Any resident of any
informal settlement survives on less than a dollar a day,” she said, but
fresh fruits are available and “one can get their stomach full on a cup of
tea and doughnut” for the equivalent of 19 cents.

Most of the people in Kangemi
and the other slums of Nairobi work in factories, Akwede said, but they do not
earn enough to pay for rent in a better neighborhood.

Pope Francis told the people
gathered in the church that he had an obligation to denounce the injustices
that keep the slum dwellers living in such desperate circumstances, but he also
urged the people to recognize the values they have and that the world needs: Solidarity, celebration, taking
care to bury the dead, making more room at one’s simple table and taking in the
sick all are characteristic of people in the world’s poorest neighborhoods.

Such values, he said, are “grounded
in the fact that each human being is more important than the god of money.
Thank you for reminding us that another type of culture is possible.”

While those values “are not
quoted in the stock exchange,” Pope Francis said, they are the true “signs
of good living.”

But the problems faced in the
makeshift communities “are not a random combination of unrelated problems,”
he said; they are “the consequence of new forms of colonialism,”
which see African countries as “cogs on a gigantic wheel” and a
storehouse of natural resources to plunder.

African nations, he said, “are
frequently pressured to adopt policies typical of the culture of waste, like
those aimed at lowering the birth rate.”

Pope Francis denounced the
ridiculously high rent that absentee landlords charge for “utterly unfit
housing” in the slum. He also insisted that governments have an obligation
to ensure their citizens have “toilets, sewers, drains, refuse collection,
electricity” and access to schools, hospitals and open space for

To a strong round of applause,
the pope also insisted that access to drinking water be provided in the slums. “Access
to safe, drinkable water is a basic and universal human right,” he said.

The pope gave special
recognition to the women of Kangemi and the other informal settlements. They
make heroic efforts not only to feed their children, but to protect them from
violence, crime and addiction — all plagues common in the slums. The corrupt,
he said, use young people “as cannon fodder for their ruthless business

From Kangemi, Pope Francis went
to Nairobi’s Kasarani Stadium for a meeting with the nation’s young people. The
atmosphere was charged with excitement and infectious celebration; the Kenyan
bishops started line dancing after the youths did. Kenyan President Uhuru
Kenyatta and his wife arrived, going to the head of the line, dancing as they
went to their seats.

A young woman and young man
asked Pope Francis questions and, as they spoke, the pope took notes. In the
end, he set aside his prepared text and answered their questions, particularly
regarding the problems of tribalism and corruption.

“Tribalism destroys a
nation,” he said. “Tribalism is keeping your hands behind your back
and holding in each hand a rock to throw at others.”

“The ear, the heart and the
hand” are needed to overcome tribalism, the pope told the young people,
including many who were dressed in the traditional costumes of the Masai and
other ethnic groups.

People need to listen to each
other, ask each other about their history and customs, open their hearts to one
another and extend a hand in friendship.

He called his young questioners
to the podium and took their hands. Then he asked the estimated 70,000 young
people who filled the stadium to hold hands as well. “We are all a nation,”
he had them say. “No to tribalism.”

As for corruption, the pope compared
it to sugar: It tastes good at first and it’s easy to get, but it also can make
people sick.

All institutions have people
tempted by corruption, the pope said, “including the Vatican.”

He urged the young people to
have nothing to do with cheating or corruption; “don’t develop a taste for
it,” he said.

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