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Africa

Kenyans eagerly await pope's visit

Pope Francis begins his visit to Africa in Kenya on Wednesday. Poverty, peace and corruption are high on his agenda. Excitement in Kenya is at a fever pitch. From Nairobi, Daniel Pelz reports.

Pope Francis has already arrived at Nairobi's Holy Family Cathedral. A life-size cardboard figure of the pontiff smiles at worshippers who have gathered for midday prayers.

"I feel so ignited, so happy and blessed," says 31-year-old Kevin Bundi as she dashes up the stairs to the cathedral. According to a recent opinion poll, 93 percent of Kenyans, across religious lines, say they are excited about the pope's visit. More than 1.4 million people are expected to attend the public mass the pope is scheduled to hold on Thursday.

Peace and reconciliation top the agenda

Maurene Okumu is handing out invitations for the papal mass. "We hope that he is going to pray for peace in Kenya. There is no peace in our country," she says.

It's a wish shared by many in a country that has been battling terrorist attacks for several years. Many Kenyans are still shocked after members of the Islamist al-Shabab militia stormed Garissa University College in April this year. The attack left 142 students dead, most of them Christians. Ethnic tensions are also simmering beneath the surface. Many Kenyans fear a repetition of the ethnic clashes that followed the 2007 general election. More than 1,000 people died.

A placard announcing the pope's visit

Placards heralding the pope's visit can be seen throughout Nairobi

The pope has already indicated that peace and reconciliation will be at the top of the agenda on his five-day tour. "We are living at a time when religious believers and person of goodwill everywhere are called to foster mutual understanding and respect and to support each other as members of our one human family," he said in a video message released on Sunday. In addition to Kenya, the pope will also be visiting Uganda and the Central African Republic.

The pope's call has been well received in Kenya. "His presence and his recognition that there are people of different faiths in this country is a clear indication that the pope wants to promote interfaith relations," the Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM), Hassan Ole Nado, told DW. Muslims make up around 11 percent of the population in Kenya. The pope will meet with Muslim leaders and representatives of other faiths in Kenya on Thursday.

'Voice of reason for our leaders'

The worshippers at Holy Family Cathedral are also hoping for clear words on rampant graft. "He needs to tell people to shun corruption once and for all," says Anthony Gachuru, who is among the congregation.

Last Sunday, Devolution Minister Ann Waiguru resigned following the loss of public funds, including almost 100 million euros ($106 million) from the National Youth Service. President Uhuru Kenyatta has promised strong measures to root out corruption, but public confidence in the government is low. "Action, not brave talk is the key in graft war," the Daily Nation newspaper wrote about the president's latest initiative.

Two girls look out of the door of a slum building

A visit to Kangemi slum is also on the pope's agenda

The pope also intends to highlight rampant poverty in Africa. On Friday, he is due to visit Kangemi slum, home to more than 200,000 people. 43.4 percent of all Kenyans live below the poverty line.

Catholics are also waiting for the pope to comment about the future of their church. Pope Francis has repeatedly suggested a cautious reform of the church's firm stand against homosexuality and divorce. His statements have faced stiff resistance from conservative Catholics around the world, including many African bishops. "He needs to take a bold stand on where the church is going," says 36-year-old Myriam Mwangi, a family life planning coordinator of the archdiocese of Nairobi.

She will respect the pope's opinion, she says, but she also has a clear view of her own: "I want the church to remain traditional."

James Shimanyula in Nairobi contributed to this article

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