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Catholics begin countdown to Papal visit

Kenya’s Catholic parishes and dioceses will on Sunday begin special prayers and night vigils in preparation for the visit of Pope Francis. This will be his first visit to Africa since his election in March 2013.

Organisers say 1.5 million people are expected in Nairobi for the historic visit that starts on November 25.

But due to logistical and security arrangements, it will not be a free for all affair, unlike in the past Papal masses.

Special arrangements have been made for dioceses to only allow a limited number of people at the mass at University of Nairobi’s graduation square.

About 200,000 congregants will be allowed inside the square. The rest will watch on giant screens put up around Uhuru Park, Central Park and other public places in the city.

The four Kenyan Archdioceses of Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa and Nyeri have 26 dioceses and one Military Ordinariate. The ordinariate is without a bishop now following the retirement of Bishop Col Alfred Rotich.

Rotich is in charge the national committee organising the Pope’s visit assisted by the Rev Dr Stephen Okello, a Consolata Missionary who organised the last Papal visit to Kenya in 1995.

In Nairobi, the epicentre of the celebrations, arrangements are in full gear. Inside the Holy Family Minor Basilica, there is a full length colour portrait of Pope Francis in his symbolic blessing salute to the congregation.

“DO NOT BE AFRAID”

Similar pictures and portraits will appear in many Catholic churches and cathedrals all over Kenya. Banners and huge bill boards will be placed in strategic places within Nairobi and beyond.

About 500 local and international journalists will cover the Pope who is coming with a message of hope, reconciliation and peace. The theme of the visit is “Do not be Afraid”.

Pope Francis is offering something for everyone on this visit. He will meet with leaders of other faiths, talk to the youth at Kasarani, and meet the lowly and down trodden at a slum area church in Kangemi, which is under the Jesuits — his own religious congregation.

When the Italian plane carrying the Pope touches down at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Wednesday, November 25, it will be the fourth visit of a Pope to Kenya.

The first pontiff to visit Kenya was Pope (now Saint) John Paul II on May 6, 1980 on a three-day state visit. At the time, the Vatican Embassy in Nairobi had not been elevated to a full Apostolic Nunciature. It was elevated to a full Nunciature headed by Archbishop Giovanni Tonucci.

The second Papal visit to Kenya was on August 16, 1985, when Pope John Paul II returned to attend the 43rd International Eucharist Congress.

And 10 years later, in September 1995, the Pope was again in Kenya for promulgation of the African Synod.

During that visit he officially opened The Catholic Higher Institute of Eastern Africa now The Catholic University, and the Resurrection Gardens in Karen, Nairobi.

Mr Muroki, an MA student in Communication at Daystar University, has worked with the Catholic Church for many years.