In the last day of his visit to Kenya, Pope Francis visited a poor neighbourhood and spoke to young people in a sports stadium, hammering home his message of outreach to the poor and downtrodden and the need for economic justice.
Francis said he had chosen the slums of Kangemi because he wanted the poor people living there that “your joys and hopes, your troubles and your sorrows, are not indifferent to me.” Remarking that he is aware of the difficulties they face, he added: “How can I not denounce the injustices which you suffer?”
He praised the values and virtues often lived in poor neighborhoods, such as a tightknit sense of community, bonds of belonging, care for the sick, a love for birth and life, fortitude in adversity and a willingness to share one’s bread with the hungry.
These “Gospel values” often found among the poor are frequently absent in an opulent society, Francis said, which can be “anaesthetized by unbridled consumption.” They are values “which are not quoted in the stock exchange, are not subject to speculation, and have no market price.”
At the same time, Francis denounced powerful minorities that perpetuate situations of injustice. The “dreadful injustice of urban exclusion,” he said, results in wounds inflicted by “minorities who cling to power and wealth, who selfishly squander while a growing majority is forced to flee to abandoned, filthy and run-down peripheries.”
Decrying land speculation, the Pope said he was aware “of the serious problem posed by faceless ‘private developers’ who hoard areas of land and even attempt to appropriate the playgrounds of your children’s schools.”
Most importantly, Francis said, is a lack of access for the most basic human necessities such as plumbing, garbage collection, electricity, decent roads and above all, clean drinking water, which he called “a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival.”
Francis took the occasion to reiterate his denunciation of the recruitment of youth to criminal and terrorist organizations like the jihadist group Boko Haram, which use them as “cannon fodder” for their “bloody enterprises.”
The Pope said that these injustices are not a random combination of unrelated problems, but consequences of “new forms of colonialism.” Indeed, he said, poorer countries are frequently pressured into adopting policies typical of the culture of waste “like those aimed at lowering the birth rate.”
These same topics resurfaced in different ways later in the morning when Pope Francis met with 70,000 young people in the Kasarani stadium. The Pope was especially adamant about the evil of corruption, understood to be one of the underlying causes of Africa’s extreme poverty. Corruption is everywhere, Francis said, not only in politics. You can find it in all institutions, “even in the Vatican,” he said.
“Corruption is something that gets inside you. It’s like sugar, we like it, it goes down easy, and then we end up badly,” he said. “We wind up with diabetes or our country ends up with diabetes.”
“Whenever we accept a bribe,” he said, “and it goes into our pocket, we destroy our heart, our personality and our homeland.”
It’s no use saying that everybody does it, Francis continued, because reform has to start somewhere. “Corruption robs us of joy, robs us of peace,” he said. “The corrupt person does not live in peace.”
“Boys and girls,” he said, “corruption is not a way of life, it is a journey of death.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome