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Catholic faithful ready for pope visit

23 November 2015, 08:11

Nairobi -The Roman Catholic church in the slum of Kangemi is always popular, but this week, the last Sunday mass before Pope Francis comes to visit, the building is packed.

"People are extremely excited, because it's a big honour, we feel very privileged to host the Holy Father," said Peter Magu, a member of the organising committee for the papal visit, who has been busy preparing for the pontiff's mass in the Nairobi slum on Friday.

"He's coming here in Kangemi to mix with the less privileged, the sick, the refugees and the elderly, and that's very exceptional," Magu added, calling Francis "very humble, down to earth, a pope of the people."

Francis' visit to Kangemi, a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi of tin-roofed houses home to some 200,000 people -- including 20,000 Catholics -- is expected to be one of the highlights.

"I must see him - and I'll make sure I fetch some soil from the place where he will step and carry it in my hand bag, because I know he represents Jesus Christ on earth," said church goer Mary Wangeci.

The pontiff arrives in Nairobi on Wednesday for a five-day and three-nation Africa tour to Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic (CAR).

The three countries -- which have significant Catholic communities -- have been troubled by civil conflicts and violence, leading to increased security concerns surrounding the pope's visit.

'Excitement all over the country'

"Stand strong in faith, do not be afraid," a slogan on a poster reads in the Kangemi church of Saint Joseph The Worker, alongside an image of the pope.

Both Kenyan and Ugandan troops are fighting the Al-Qaeda linked Shebab insurgents in Somalia, and the Islamists have carried out a string of attacks in revenge.

Those include the 2010 Kampala bombings in which 76 people died, and in Kenya, an April massacre at Garissa university in which 148 people were killed, and a 2013 assault on Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall that killed 67.

Acting president of the Central African Republic Catherine Samba Panza has said she hopes the pope will go ahead with his visit to the conflict-hit country despite security concerns.

At the mass on Sunday, people sing, some dance.

"There is excitement all over the country, and especially excitement in Kangemi, because you don't expect the pope to come to a place like Kangemi," said Father Joseph Oduor Afulo.

"He's giving us our dignity as poor people," Magu added. "Most of the time we are looked down upon, but here is a person who comes and says: 'You are also important.' And that's very, very important to us. We feel more like other human beings. We feel we are at the same level in the eyes of God."

As the worshippers leave church, they say they are happy with the papal visit - which has already improved their daily lives.

Dirt roads have been repaired, street lights put up, water pipes unblocked.

"Kangemi has had lots of problems for a very long time, we can see the roads have been upgraded, street lights have been installed," Wangeci said. "I am very happy."

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