Kenya's bishops urge country to embrace peace, co-existence as pope's visit nears

Worshippers pray inside a Catholic church in Nyeri, Kenya, in May 2015. (CNS photo/Stuart Price, EPA)

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops called on Kenyans to prepare for Pope Francis' first visit to Africa at the end of November by embracing peace and co-existence and with prayer. They also invited people to turn out to welcome the pontiff during his Nov. 25-27 visit to the East Africa nation.

The call reflects the bishops' desire that the pope's visit will unite Kenyans, especially because the country is politically divided along ethnic lines. "May his coming bring us all the spiritual benefits we need to grow as one united nation, strong in faith and rooted in God's love," the bishops said in a statement released as the concluded their regular plenary meeting Nov. 9 in the Kenyan capital.

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"The exceptional visit by Pope Francis presents us with a unique opportunity to appreciate our country, region and continent afresh. This is an opportunity to appreciate our motherland and reaffirm our common destiny,"

The prelates also urged Kenyans to use tackle the "'festering wound' of corruption, the heightened looting from public coffers by those entrusted with public resources." The pope's visit offers "a good time to evaluate and clearly define in law the relationship between the church and the state here in Kenya," the statement said, noting that the different areas of expertise each has allows them to collaborate to meet the needs of Kenyans.

"The state has to respect the autonomy of the church and at the same time give the necessary concessions to the church in view of her missionary and charitable works especially in the area of tax exemption," the bishops' conference said.

Pope Francis' visit "will be an opportunity of renewal for all of us Kenyans as we expect his message to inspire us to a greater sense of responsibility and duty to build a country that is peaceful and God-fearing," they said.

Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi described the visit in a separate statement as a "real blessing" for the country's Catholic Church as well as the nation. He said the visit will allow Kenyans the opportunity to reflect on the pope's aspirations of selflessness, attention to the needs of poor people and the environment.

Meanwhile, Kenyan security officials continued to work to ensure the pope's safety during his three-day visit. Government spokesman. Government spokesman Manoa Espisu said during a Nov. 8 news conference that details of the pope's travel routes continue to be arranged and were to be in enough to time to allow people to line roadways and welcome him to the country.

Unlike during U.S. President Barack Obama's visit in July, when the government encouraged Kenyans to stay at home, Espisu urged people to turn out for the pope, who will be making his first visit to Africa since his March 2013 election. About 10,000 police officers will be on duty during the visit, he said.

Pope Francis will visit Uganda and Central African Republic before returning to the Vatican Nov. 30.

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