Millions of people around the world live in slums on the edges of large cities. Generally ignored by their local governments and avoided by those with the means to live elsewhere, these people are the very embodiment of what it means to be marginalized.
So when Pope Francis chose not only to visit the large Kangemi slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, but also to celebrate Mass there, it was clear he was making yet another powerful statement about God’s love for the poor.
The Kangemi visit will take place on the pope’s five-day trip to Africa, Nov. 25-30. In addition to Kenya, he is also scheduled to visit Uganda and the Central African Republic.
But on Friday, Nov. 27, the eyes of the world will be on the humble parish church of St. Joseph the Worker, spiritual home to Kangemi’s large Catholic population, as well as many families in the Unbound program.
For Jacinta Wanjiku, a social worker in Unbound’s Nairobi program, the pope’s visit is a powerful statement of solidarity with those disregarded by the rest of society.
“I think his visit is very significant,” she said. “He has chosen to visit a church that is located in the heart of a slum. He will be amongst the poor in the community. I am hoping that this act of meekness and humility will touch the rich who often look down at those living in the slum.”
Salome, a long-time resident of Kangemi and a member of the St. Joseph community, also appreciates the significance of Pope Francis’ visit. The mother of three children, two of whom are sponsored through Unbound, Salome is one of the fortunate few selected to attend the papal Mass.
“As a Catholic I am so excited and, as a resident of Kangemi slum, am really humbled that the pope chose my village to visit. It reminds me of Jesus Christ’s teachings from the Bible. Christ loved being amongst the lowly, the poor, those who were neglected.
“I feel that the pope is walking in Christ’s steps. It makes me feel important and valued as a person when I listen to his messages of solidarity with the poor people in the world.”
From the time Francis was first elected pope in 2013, it was clear that the importance of solidarity with the poor would be a central theme of his papacy. It is a theme that has resonated strongly within the Unbound community.
Nairobi program coordinator Peter Ndungo believes that the work of Unbound is a beautiful and important expression of the values underlying Francis’ message.
“Poverty breeds despair, disappointment and loneliness,” Ndungo said. “The fact that Unbound, through its diverse programs, invests in individual ideas and initiatives that change lives, echoes [the pope’s] message of hope to people living in poverty.
“People living in poverty need a message of hope that says that, irrespective of their situation, they matter and that choices they make in life make a difference in this world.”
“My role models in life are and have always been Mother Teresa and the pope,” she said. “Their love for humanity and especially the less fortunate is an example to follow. Everyone has a light in them that at times needs to reignited if it is burning low. And if it has gone out, it should be lit again.
“We should be ready to be that person who gives hope to the less fortunate, make them realize that they have great potential in them, and that they can make it no matter what or where they come from. As we prepare for the papal visit, everyone, whether Catholic or not, should find it in their hearts to borrow a leaf from the pope and have love for everyone, regardless of their circumstances and situation in life.
“Love should be our language as Kenyans.”
And, as Pope Francis would no doubt add, as human beings.
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