Pope Francis will have a packed itinerary in the region from the minute his plane touches down on Wednesday at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
The pontiff will be hosted by President Uhuru Kenyatta, a Catholic himself, at State House, Nairobi.
Pope Francis, accompanied by senior clergy and officials from the Vatican, will then hold talks with senior Kenyan officials, diplomats and later deliver a speech from the lawns of State House.
According to a statement released by Waumini Communications, the Catholic Church in Kenya’s official communication arm, Pope Francis will spend Thursday morning holding inter-religious meetings with leaders from different Protestant denominations at the Nuncio (Vatican embassy), including representatives of the Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Hindu faiths, to promote the message of co-operation and friendship.
It is also expected that in these interactions, the pontiff will touch on the issue of religious tolerance in the country in the wake of terrorist attacks by Al Shabaab militants.
Later in the day, Pope Francis will lead a Mass before more than 200,000 at the grounds of the University of Nairobi, where a new grand papal altar has been constructed.
According to Fr Stephen Okello, the national co-ordinator in charge of the papal visit, Pope Francis will be expected to discuss peace, youth unemployment, national cohesion and integration.
“We also hope that his address will touch on global warming, climate change and environment,” Fr Okello said.
The Vatican leader is also expected to meet and console some of the Garissa University attack victims and families of those killed in one of Kenya’s worst terrors attacks, which left 148 students dead.
The pope will later make a speech at the United Nations Environment Programme offices in Nairobi, where he is expected to talk about climate change, the environment and global warming.
Since his inauguration, Pope Francis has been at the forefront of advocating environmental issues. In his September address to the United Nations, he said that the world demands of all government leaders a will that is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment.
“We also need to put to an end the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: Human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organised crime,” Pope Francis said.
On the last day of his visit, the pontiff is expected to address youth from across the country at Kasarani Stadium and thereafter visit the residents of the Kangemi to assess the Catholic Church’s work in this community.
This will not be the first time he will be heading to a poor neighbourhood. He has done so in his trips to the Philippines and Bogota, Columbia.
While on a visit in Bogota in July, Pope Francis stressed the need to protect the most vulnerable in society from the impact of capitalism.
“The church and world leaders should be focused on helping uplift the lives of the world’s poor,” he said.
In Uganda, the pontiff is expected at Entebbe airport on Friday evening where he will meet President Yoweri Museveni. However unlike Kenya, there will be no state dinner as was with the case with President Milton Obote hosting Pope Paul VI in 1969.
The pontiff is expected to visit the Anglican Sanctuary of the Martyrs at Namugongo and later preside over the holy mass for the martyrs of Uganda. Uganda saw its Catholic Martyrs killed between 1885 and 1887 by Kabaka Mwanga.
He is later expected to have a meeting with the youth at Kololo Airstrip in Kampala before being hosted by Ugandan bishops, priests, religious men and women, and seminarians in the Cathedral in the Residence of the Archbishop after visiting the House of Charity of Nalukolongo.
Pope Francis will then head to Central African Republic (CAR) on Sunday mid-morning, where he is expected to pay a courtesy visit to Catherine Samba-Panza, the transition president of CAR at the Presidential Palace.
He will later hold a meeting with civic leaders and with the diplomatic corps before visiting a refugee camp in the capital Bangui. Since the start of the civil conflict, UNHCR estimates that some 485,093 people have been displaced within the country and over 421,179 people have fled to Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo and Chad.
Pope Francis is also expected to meet with bishops and later the Evangelical Community at the headquarters of the Faculty of Evangelical Theology of Bangui, where he will speak about peace and religious tolerance. He will also preside over Mass.
On Monday, the Pope will meet with the Muslim community at the central Mosque of Koudoukou. He is expected to push for religious tolerance with a view to achieve peace.