Catholic Church in East Africa prepares for Pope's visit

NAIROBI, KENYA (Reuters) - These tailors who make vestments for the Catholic clergy are busy taking measurements and making cuts to fabric at a workshop at the "St. Joseph, the Worker" parish in Nairobi.

They are working on a very special project, making robes that will be worn by Pope Francis and other Bishops during his visit to the country on November 25.

The parish is located in Kangemi, a low income area on the outskirts of the city and will have the privilege of hosting Pope Francis during his three-day visit to Kenya.

Drawing inspiration from African cultural designs, the Catholic Church leadership commissioned the parish to tailor 60 bishop chasubles, 604 albs and 2004 stoles, most of which have been completed.

Sarah Ndungu is one of the parish tailors.

"This time round because the visitors are coming to Africa that is why we chose the one with an African touch. So we were to find a kitenge that symbolises mostly the Maasai women with the beads the necklaces that they put. That is what we found for the Pope and also for the Bishops attires," she said.

Pope Francis made a request to visit the parish for an interactive session with 1,200 Kangemi residents. Kangemi houses about 650,000 people.

Father Marandu, is the parish priest at "St. Joseph, the Worker" and said parishioners are excited about their guest.

"We are affirmed in our discipleship that we are part of the church, a significant part of the church, so significant that the Pope pays us a visit without caring what type of road we have, what type of hall we have and so on. That is something indeed." explained Father Marandu, priest to St Joseph Kangemi.

Francis, who became pope in 2013, has already made trips this year to South America and the United States.

Since his election as the first Latin American pope, Francis has met the most needy on each of his 10 foreign tours. The pontiff will travel to Uganda on November 27 and will be arriving in the Central African Republic, the final stop on the trip, on November 29.

The trip, his first to Africa, is fraught with security concerns. Attacks by gunmen of the Somalia-based Islamist group al Shabaab in Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall killed 67 people in 2013 and another attack at the Garissa University College in eastern Kenya killed 148 people last April, most of them Christian.

The last papal visit to Kenya was made by Pope John Paul II in 1995, an occasion that drew huge crowds who came to hear him speak his message of unity of the family and encouragement to the the youth.

Pope Francis has been deemed by the media as less conservative compared to his predecessors, he has stressed since his election that the 1.2 billion-member Church should be open to change, side with the poor and rid itself of the pomp and stuffiness that has alienated so many Catholics.

Philomena Mwaura, a professor of religious studies at Kenyatta University says that the pontiff wants to find a balance that will safeguard the church's doctrine yet shun discrimination.

"The Pope has been described as a liberal, some would describe him as a conservative but I would say he is more of a reformer and progressive. He does not really, he hasn't - I wouldn't say that he has gone contrary to the Christian teaching, he is also concerned about the integrity of marriage. The message that he preaches is one of mercy, one of love and concern for those who are victims, for those who are suffering. But I would not say that he is bringing about radical changes in doctrine or wishing to change the message of the Gospel," she said.

According to the World Christian Database, by late last year there were 171 million Catholics in Sub-Saharan Africa with 7.5 million belonging to the Kenyan Catholic Church.

Pope Prays for Africa Ahead of Trip
Pope Prays for Africa Ahead of Trip

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