NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Brushing aside security concerns, Pope Francis arrived in Kenya on Wednesday on his first-ever trip to Africa and urged Kenyans to work for peace and forgiveness amid a wave of extremist violence on the continent that threatens to disrupt his trip.
Francis was received upon arrival at Nairobi’s airport by President Uhuru Kenyatta and a throng of traditional dancers and singers at the start of a six-day pilgrimage that will also take him to Uganda and the Central African Republic, a country wracked by fighting between Christians and Muslims.
Asked en route if he was concerned about his own safety, Francis responded with his typical wry humor: “I’m more worried about the mosquitoes.”
But he sounded a far more serious note in his speech to Kenyatta and the country’s diplomatic corps at Nairobi’s State House, urging all Kenyans to work for peace and forgiveness to heal ethnic, religious and economic divisions.
“Experience shows that violence, conflict and terrorism feed on fear, mistrust and the despair born of poverty and frustration,” he told the audience, which applauded him warmly. “Ultimately, the struggle against these enemies of peace must be carried on by men and women who fearlessly believe in, and bear honest witness to, the great spiritual and political values which inspired the birth of the nation.”
Francis didn’t refer explicitly to the April 2 attack by Islamic extremists that left 150 people dead at a mostly Christian university in Garissa. But he is likely to insist on the need for interfaith dialogue Thursday when he meets with Christian and Muslim leaders, and later with young Kenyans struggling to live their faith amid the menace of the Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group responsible for the Garissa attack.
Kenyatta didn’t refer to al-Shabab either, but spoke generally about the threat posed by Islamic extremists, who on Wednesday struck Tunisia after attacks in recent days in Mali and Paris.