VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis heads to Africa for the first time today on a trip aimed at pushing the key themes of his papacy but also fraught with security concerns.
The 78-year-old will use his 11th overseas trip since taking office in 2013 to deliver a total of 19 speeches on peace, social justice, environmental protection and interfaith dialogue in Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic (CAR).
On the streets of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, where Francis is due to arrive around 5:00 pm (1400 GMT), huge billboards have been erected to welcome the pontiff.
Vast crowds are expected to turn out to see his motorcade.
“Karibu Papa Francis,” said Kenya’s Standard newspaper, or “welcome” in Swahili, also repeating the same message in Latin for the visiting clerics, “Grata Franciscus Pontifex.”
Predictions that the final leg of the trip, to the conflict-wracked CAR, would inevitably be postponed have so far proved wide of the mark, despite warnings from French peacekeepers there that they cannot guarantee his security.
Vatican officials say a last-minute change of programme will only happen if Francis is made aware of a precise threat that could endanger the thousands of believers expected to come and see him, many of whom will be travelling long distances from neighbouring countries.
The pope is due to be welcomed in Kenya by President Uhuru Kenyatta. In a speech at the presidential residence State House he is expected to address questions of corruption and the gulf between rich and poor, both issues of particular concern for Kenya.
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