With a universal sign rooted in African tradition Pope Francis inaugurated his first visit to the immense continent with the planting of a tree in Nairobi. Shortly thereafter, as evening fell, the young olive tree was abundantly watered by a driving rain. It is easy to understand why this custom is commonly practised in Kenya, especially among young people as they end their schooling, as a symbol of opening to the future.
It was with this “eloquent sign of hope”, the planting of a seedling intended above all for future generations, that the Pontiff chose to express his trust in God to sustain the efforts of those who are working to “cultivate a society of solidarity, justice and peace” in Kenya and throughout Africa. The Pope emphasized this in his address in response to the very warm welcome given by President Uhuru Kenyatta. Speaking before the authorities and diplomatic corps, Pope Francis immediately praised his host country for its exemplary democratic process.
The goal is to build a just and inclusive multiethnic society in a nation which Bergoglio defined as young, and which must invest in its young people. But Kenya is also characterized by beauty and the abundance of its natural resources, aspects which led the Pontiff to address the serious environmental crisis, mere days before the Paris Conference at which the Holy See will be represented by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, who will leave the papal journey in Uganda in order to reach the French capital in time.
At the centre of the latest encyclical, which drew interest from far beyond Catholic settings, is the issue of the relationship with nature which brings each human being to face the responsibility of safeguarding the whole of creation and its beauty, in order to pass it on intact to future generations. These values, Pope Francis said, “are deeply rooted in the African soul”. In a world which, instead of protecting, prefers to exploit “our common home”, this conviction must lead to responsible models of development.
Prior to the large Mass on the university campus and the meeting with clergy and men and women religious, he made a decisive appeal to several religious leaders regarding the necessity and importance of dialogue among Christians and among religions. Having interreligious friendship and understanding is not “a luxury”. Indeed, it is something that the world “increasingly needs”, the Pontiff stated, as he recalled the bloodshed that has decimated Kenya. Because “the God whom we seek to serve is a God of peace” and “his holy Name must never be used to justify hatred and violence”.Once again the Pontiff repeated that there is “a clear link between the protection of nature and the building of a just and equitable social order”, and that therefore, the renewal of the relationship with environment depends on the renewal of humanity itself. For this reason it is necessary to fight poverty, which gives rise to the violence and terrorism that feed on desperation. These are the “enemies of peace and prosperity”, Pope Bergoglio said to national authorities and representatives of the diplomatic corps. Their applause would interrupt his first speech on African soil 15 times.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 25, 2020
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