Pope Francis’ Kenya visit concluded Friday with a visit to Kangemi, a poor shanty town on the outskirts of Nairobi. The visit to such a poor neighborhood echoed his earlier program, in which he has pursued a strong message of service to the poor. Kangemi was no different, and the Pope used his visit to slam the exclusion of the poor from society, laying the blame squarely on “a small minority,” a clear reference to Kenya’s small social elite.
Despite serious security concerns, Pope Francis went ahead with his plans to walk amongst the people in the narrow, difficult-to-police streets of the Nairobi slum. The locals had spent weeks preparing for this leg of Pope Francis’ Kenya visit, using volunteer labor to clear rubbish and obstructions from the streets. The pope’s arrival was greeted with an ecstatic welcome, with CNN’s correspondent reporting that women lined the streets ululating while Swahili folk songs were sung by the children. Sister Mari Killeen, who works in Kangemi and other areas, expressed her appreciation of the Pontiff’s egalitarian decision to include the slum on his visit schedule.
“Sometimes challenges in slums almost cause us to despair and some people give up working in slums… you shine a light on the challenges. Your meeting with us gives us dignity.”
When the pope spoke, however, it was very clear that he had no illusions about the causes of poverty in Kenya, or doubts about who might be to blame. Pope Francis railed against the “injustice of social exclusion” and the inequalities surrounding the distribution of land in Kenya. Pope Francis was unequivocal as to who was responsible for the hardships caused by these injustices.
“These are wounds inflicted by minorities who cling to power and wealth, who selfishly squander while a growing majority is forced to flee to abandoned, filthy and run-down peripheries.”
While acknowledging that the poor neighborhoods were, in themselves, repositories of values that were not governed by the worship of the dollar, the pope was scathing about the privations that the rich elite were forcing on the residents of such neighborhoods. He referred to “faceless developers” whose rapaciousness was such that they would bulldoze a child’s playground in order to make an extra profit. According to Kenya’s Daily Nation, Pope Francis was especially disapproving of the situation with regard to water rights. He pointed out that to limit access to drinking water could not possibly be justified by any bureaucratic or commercial reasoning.
“To deny a family water… is a great injustice, especially when one profits from this need.”
At a speech at a nearby sports centre, Pope Francis also acknowledged the recent revelations about corruption in the Vatican, using them to call on all people to avoid the temptations of corruption. The pope also spoke about the plundering of natural resource, more generally in terms of the burning of fossil fuels, but also with particular reference to Africa. He pointed to the abuses rife within the illegal trades in ivory and gems, a message that resonated powerfully with Kenyans, whose economy depends so heavily on farming and tourism. These illegal trades represent a significant drain on the local economy, and strong agreement was voiced in support of the denunciation of this trafficking by Pope Francis. Kenya’s Kangemi estate is the last leg of Pope Francis’ Kenya visit, which has passed without incident despite concerns.