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Pope Francis Encourages Christian, Muslim Leaders To Be 'Prophets For Peace'


Let's take a listen, now, to the sounds of Catholicism from Nairobi, Kenya this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in foreign language).

MONTAGNE: Pope Francis celebrated mass in the Kenyan capital, the first stop on an African tour. Francis is the first pope from the southern hemisphere making his first trip to Africa. NPR's Gregory Warner is there for this momentous occasion. Good morning.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And, Greg, it sounds sound very festive - beautiful singing.

WARNER: Oh, no, yeah, beautiful - and the steady rain that was falling during that mass did not stop tens of thousands of people from attending. I think the excitement in Nairobi may be as great, if not greater, than it was for President Obama's visit this summer. And the government's even declared it a national holiday because of the pope's visit. And I'll tell you, Renee, if you look at the faces in those crowds, they're almost all young people. It's easy to see why Africa is so important to the Vatican. It's one of the world's fastest growing regions for Catholicism.

MONTAGNE: And I gather the pope has spent the morning meeting with Muslim and Christian leaders. What has been his message to them?

WARNER: Well, peace and reconciliation is the theme of this tour. And the pope specifically mentioned terrorist attacks in Kenya, including this year's massacre at a university campus - also the 2013 attack on Westgate shopping mall here in Nairobi. And then at mass, the pope asked Kenyan youth to reject prejudice and discrimination. And this Sunday, he's going to be visiting the war-torn Central African Republic. There, the dynamic is different. Most of the recent killing has been Christian militias against Muslim civilians. His message there will also be reconciliation.

MONTAGNE: And another thing, this pope has not always seen eye-to-eye with African bishops, who are particularly conservative on some subjects, including the issue of homosexuality. Will there be tension?

WARNER: Well, homosexuality is illegal in most African countries. And I'll tell you, when politicians want to spout hate speech or when they are doing bad in the polls, they want to find a scapegoat, they go to the church pulpit. And we've seen that in Kenya. We've seen that in Uganda. I don't know if it will come up directly on this tour. But another hot-button issue here is the question of celibacy. African priests, just demographically, they're often the best and brightest of their communities. You know, they're that kid that won the scholarship to seminary school. Maybe they're the first in their family to go to college. They want to get married. They want to have kids. Or they say they'll leave the church. That's also an issue for the future of the Catholic Church here in Africa. It may not be mentioned here on this tour.

MONTAGNE: Well, the site for tomorrow's mass is a slum in Nairobi. This pope has made his compassion for the poor central to his papacy. How has that message been received there in Kenya?

WARNER: Well, as we all know, this pope is famously humble. But even Kenyans were shocked when he drove in from the airport in a little gray Honda. And Kenyon editorial writers noted what a far cry this vehicle was from the polished Mercedes and the tinted 4x4s favored by politicians here. And the timing for this visit, I think, is particularly interesting because corruption - I mean, that's long been an issue in this region. But the pope's arrival in Kenya coincides with major government corruption allegations coming to light. And it's no coincidence that just days before the pope's visit, the Kenyon president, Uhuru Kenyatta, sacked five ministers accused of stealing public money. So there's a hope that the pope can really accomplish something on this trip.

MONTAGNE: All right, thanks very much, Greg.

WARNER: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Gregory Warner, speaking to us from Nairobi, Kenya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gregory Warner is the host of NPR's Rough Translation, a podcast about how things we're talking about in the United States are being talked about in some other part of the world. Whether interviewing a Ukrainian debunker of Russian fake news, a Japanese apology broker navigating different cultural meanings of the word "sorry," or a German dating coach helping a Syrian refugee find love, Warner's storytelling approach takes us out of our echo chambers and leads us to question the way we talk about the world. Rough Translation has received the Lowell Thomas Award from the Overseas Press Club and a Scripps Howard Award.