Kenyans are working on final preparations for Pope Francis' Nov. 25-27 visit, his first stop on a three-nation visit to the continent.
Construction of the stage for the papal Mass is almost complete. For his Nov. 26 open-air Mass at the University of Nairobi, Pope Francis will use the same altar used during the May 23 beatification of Blessed Irene Stefani, an Italian member of the Consolata Missionary Sisters who cared for wounded and sick soldiers in Kenya and Tanzania during World War I.
Father Stephen Okello, papal visit coordinator, also coordinated St. John Paul II's 1995 papal visit. He said church leaders picked the altar, "made by Consolata missionaries in Nyeri more than a hundred years ago," because it was "a symbol that the pope's visit touches every Catholic faithful in the country despite the fact that he will visit Nairobi only."
At the base of each side of the altar are engravings, including symbols of the Eucharist, a bird feeding its hatchlings, a dove, a fish and a lamb. The altar includes the inscription in Latin, "Redemisti Nos Domine
Sanguine Tuo," meaning, "You saved us Lord by your blood."
Bishop Dominic Kimengich of Lodwar, head of the bishops' liturgy committee, said there was "great excitement over the coming of the pope, and all Catholics are preparing themselves to receive their leader in a special way by preparing themselves for the Mass."
In coastal Kenya, along the Indian Ocean, various choirs were preparing songs in Swahili. In Westlands, a Nairobi suburb, the Consolata Shrine Choir practices three times a week.
Agnes Karambu a member of the Consolata Shrine Choir, was 18 when St. John Paul visited Nairobi.
"I danced during the reception of the pope in 1995; this time I am going to sing at the papal Mass," she said. "I feel twice blessed to witness and participate in two papal visits in my lifetime."
Gregory Nanzia, the choir director, was in high spirits as he led his choir during a recent rehearsals.
"For me, this is a special privilege, to be leading this choir at this time, and participating at the papal Mass will be a special blessing for me," he said.
At St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Kangemi, papal vestments are being prepared at a convent right in the middle of the slum that hosts 20,000 Catholics in 30 small Christian communities.
Jesuit Father Paschal Mwijage, pastor of St. Joseph the Worker, said, "By visiting Kangemi, Pope Francis will be giving us a lot of hope and happiness."
After visiting Nairobi, Pope Francis is scheduled to go to Uganda Nov. 27 and visit Bangui, Central African Republic, Nov. 29-30.