After calling on world leaders to take action on climate change yesterday, Pope Francis turned his attention to some of the poorest people on the planet during a visit to a slum in Nairobi.
Francis, who argues that safeguarding the planet is closely linked to tackling poverty, went to Kangemi, one of the many informal settlements that ring the city of the Kenyan capital.
It is estimated that more than half of Nairobi’s population live in slums crammed into just five per cent of the city’s land area.
During his visit to Kangemi the Pope heard from one of the residents, Pamella Akwede, who described living in conditions “not conducive for human settlement”, inadequate sanitation and lack of education.
“How can I not denounce the injustices which you suffer?” the Pope told the gathering who greeted him with enthusiastic singing and applause.
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He talked about the “wounds” of urban exclusion - something he cited at his speech at the United Nations office in Nairobi yesterday - which were inflicted by minorities “who cling to power and wealth.” He said these elites “selfishly squander while a growing majority is forced to flee to abandoned, filthy and run down peripheries.” Africa countries, he added, were subject to a new form of colonialism which forces them to adopt a culture of waste, such as aiming to lower their birth rates.
The Pope also pointed out that many families had to pay excessive rents for utterly unfit housing stemming from “faceless ‘private developers’ who hoard areas of land and even attempt to appropriate the playgrounds of your children” and called for better infrastructure and basic services including “toilets, sewers, drains.”
During his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis was a regular visitor to the city’s slums, known as barrios, and has committed his papacy to serving the poor and excluded.
Pope Francis said that there is a wisdom to be found in poor neighbourhoods on his visit to Kangemi slum (PA)
In his speech today the Pope pointed out that there is a wisdom that can be found in poor neighbourhoods including strong community life, solidarity and showing patience and strength in adversity. He said these values remind us that “each human being is more important than the god of money” and are "not quoted on the stock exchange."
Francis’ religious order, the Jesuits, have been present in Kangemi for at least 20 years running the St Joseph the Worker parish. They have pioneered the creation of small christian communities along with helping set up a school, a low cost housing project and a clinic.
But there is more that could be done. Sister Mary Killeen, a sister of mercy working among those living in informal settlements, told the Pope that the “church needs to be more present in the slums” and that currently this is “poor.”
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She also gave a detailed description of the problems facing slum dwellers including addiction, eviction from landlords and the illegal grabbing of land.
Later today Francis will attend a gathering with young people at Kasarani stadium and then meet with the country’s bishops.
This afternoon he will fly to Uganda for the second leg of his Africa visit.