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Africa

Pope visits the poor, lashes out at rich minorities

The visit by Pope Francis to a slum in the Kenyan capital Nairobi was one of the highlights of his tour of three African countries. Residents of Kangemi slum welcomed him with open arms. DW’s Daniel Pelz was there.

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Pope Francis did not go down the narrow pathways bordered by open sewers that lead into the depths of Nairobi's Kangemi slum. All he was able to see during the ride in his popemobile on the outskirts of the slum, past huts of corrugated iron, was a quick glimpse of the labyrinth of brown and grey tin roofs and the smoke of the charcoal fires burning below.

Members of the crowd who greeted the pontiff with applause and Swahili ululations were happy nevertheless. "Even though he is running on a tight schedule, he has made time to visit us here. That shows me that he really cares for the poor," said 42-year-old Felicitas Kyuli.

"Most people call this a slum, but I call this my home. It is a very good place," added 14-year-old schoolboy Peter Nyangu. "I'm so glad he is coming."

The papal visit brought some benefit to Kangemi's residents. Government workers had repaired the gravel road the papal entourage was to use and installed electric lights – something many slum dwellers in Nairobi can only dream of.

The pope would probably not have been averse to venturing into Kangemi's depths. Dubbed "the slum bishop," he visited and celebrated Mass in some of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods of Argentina's capital, Buenos Aires.

The pope rides past a welcoming crowd in his popemobile

Kangemi residents applauded the pope as he drove past

Police everywhere

The security situation in Kangemi, together with advice from his security team, probably prevented the pope from going any further. Armed police and National Youth Service guards kept onlookers at bay and a police helicopter circled above the area.

A ceremony at a nearby Catholic church gave the pope a feeling of what an African church service is like.

A children's choir in pink T-Shirts with a picture of the smiling pontiff danced and sang with great fervor. The congregation joined in and waved their arms to the music. But the faithful also had some clear messages for him.

"Please tell the government to improve service provision in our slums and improve security," slum resident Pamella Akwede told the pontiff. She described a life without water, electricity or proper education and the constant struggle to survive.

Catholic nun Mary Killeen, who has worked in Nairobi's Mukuru slums for decades, also challenged the church. "The church is present in slums, but not enough. We need this presence to be bigger," she told Pope Francis.

The pope clearly felt comfortable in the simple church, made of cinder blocks and a silver iron-corrugated roof. "I am here because I want you to know that your joys and hopes, your troubles and your sorrows, are not indifferent to me," he said at the start of his warm, personal speech. "How can I not denounce the injustices which you suffer?" he added.

Recognition for slum dwellers

The pope went on to praise Nairobi's slum dwellers for their solidarity and their strong faith, despite their daily hardships.

He spoke strong words in response to expectations that he would address the issue of rampant poverty. "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," he said.

Pope Francis criticized the unfair distribution of land, a highly relevant topic for Nairobi's slum dwellers.

Pope Francis being welcomed by Kangemi residents

Kangemi residents felt the pope had addressed their concerns

They make up 60 percent of the city's population, but only occupy six percent of the land.

He lashed out at private developers "who hoard areas of land and even attempt to appropriate the playgrounds of your children's schools," and demanded land, lodging and labor for all citizens.

As she left the church, parishioner Clementine Matheka's eyes were still gleaming with excitement. "I feel appreciated, I feel recognized," she said. "Even some rich people who wanted to see him could not see him. But I saw him with my very own eyes."

"It is a wonderful day," a man added as he walked past her.

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