The Guardian, November 26, 2015
Pope Francis has called on Christians and Muslims to engage in a dialogue of peace in the face of religious radicalisation and “barbarous” attacks, as he began the first full day of his three-nation trip to Africa.
The pope met a small group of faith leaders in Nairobi before a public open-air mass, attended by around 300,000 people in the pouring rain and amid tight security.
Religion could never be used to justify violence, the pope told Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and Jewish representatives. “All too often, young people are being radicalised in the name of religion to sow discord and fear and to tear at the very fabric of society,” he said.
“How important it is that we be seen as prophets of peace, peacemakers who invite others to live in peace, harmony and mutual respect.”
Francis’s message of religious tolerance will resonate in Kenya, where there have been three major attacks in the past two years by the Somalia-based Muslim extremist organisation al-Shabaab. In April more than 150 students – most of them Christians – at Garissa University, close to the Somali border, were killed. A month earlier 12 people died in al-Shabaab attacks in Mandera county, and in September 2013 at least 67 people died in an attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi.
The pope referred to all three episodes, saying he understood that memories were still fresh in people’s minds.
Francis’s first trip to Africa also takes in visits to Uganda and Central African Republic, where thousands of people have been killed in a conflict that has a strong religious dimension.
At a meeting with priests, bishops and seminarians that followed the morning’s large open air mass, Francis made an impassioned plea for discipline and integrity within the clergy.
After being greeted with rapturous ululations by sisters, priests and theology students at a high school in Nairobi’s suburbs, he offered a sombre warning on the dangers of a church driven by “ambition for wealth and power”.
“The church is not a business,” he said. “It is not an NGO. It’s a mystery. A mystery of Christ’s gaze upon each one of us.”