Pope Francis traveled to Kenya Wednesday in his first-ever visit to the African continent and his first stop on a 3-nation tour that will include Uganda and the Central African Republic.
When asked by a journalist on the plane whether he was concerned for his safety, the Pope quipped, “The only thing that worries me are the mosquitos.” It turns out that the correspondent for Paris Match had brought along with her some mosquito spray for the Pope, which she gave him during the flight.
— Catherine Szeltner (@CatSzeltner) November 25, 2015
All jesting aside, many have expressed serious concerns for the Pope’s safety during this trip, given the state of unrest and the active presence of violent jihadists in the region.
French intelligence agents have warned of a high risk of an attack, especially in the Central African Republic, which is in the midst of civil war, and underscored the real possibility of lone wolf jihadists among the crowds that will come out to greet the pontiff.
Prior to the trip, French intelligence services reached out to the Vatican Secretariat of State, warning of a “not insignificant” risk that an attack may occur during the papal events. A particular source of concern are the ceremonies scheduled in Bangui on November 29 for the opening of the Jubilee Year for Africa, in an area that French services describe as “highly unsafe in terms of security.”
Yet despite threats of Islamic State violence, the Pope decided not change his program. In two separate video messages, one in English and the other in French, Francis emphasized that he was journeying as a “messenger of peace,” and that he wished to promote mutual understanding and respect regardless of creed or ethnicity.
Before leaving Casa Santa Marta Wednesday morning, Francis was greeted by a group of eleven women and six children. The women—from Italy, Romania, Ukraine and Nigeria, are former prostitutes or victims of violence who have been taken in by a community of religious sisters.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome