Nairobi (dpa) – Pope Francis on Thursday urged Catholics to oppose domestic violence and abortion, criticizing “arrogance in men,” at a mass attended by hundreds of thousands of faithful in Nairobi.
“We are … called to resist practices which foster arrogance in men, hurt or demean women, and threaten the life of the innocent unborn,” Francis said in his homily in the Kenyan capital.
The pope also called on young people to “always be concerned for the needs of the poor” and criticized “a culture of materialism and indifference” as well as “everything that leads to prejudice and discrimination.”
Worshippers queued to enter the university campus where the mass was held, despite the rainy weather.
“The joy of seeing him goes to my heart. It is indeed too good to see him in person,” said Mary Waithera, who saw Francis ride the Popemobile to the mass.
Some of the pilgrims who ululated and whistled to welcome the pope came from as far as Burundi and South Sudan.
“His coming to Kenya has melted the hearts of everyone,” said one of the worshippers, Peter Kangethe Gathiga.
The mass was expected to be the largest event of the pope’s six-day trip, which will also take him to Uganda and the Central African Republic.
Before the mass, Francis met with representatives of Anglicans, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and traditional African religions, calling for religious cooperation and stressing that the name of God “must never be used to justify hatred and violence.”
“All too often, young people are being radicalized in the name of religion to sow discord and fear,” the pope said.
He referred to three attacks – known to have been carried out by the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab – which killed about 230 people in the past two years. They took place at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013, at a university campus in eastern Kenya and in the northern county of Mandera this year.
“I know that the barbarous attacks on Westgate mall, Garissa University College and Mandera are fresh in your minds,” Francis said.
“The pope has confirmed that the church and all religious groups are one and universal,” said Caroline Akoth, a resident of the Kibera slum on the outskirts of Nairobi.
She also praised the pope’s personal humility and his calls to end poverty.
The 78-year-old Argentinian pontiff arrived in Nairobi on Wednesday, meeting President Uhuru Kenyatta and other dignitaries.
Kenya declared a national holiday during the pope’s visit to back up a massive security operation, with many roads closed in Nairobi.
Francis will leave Friday for Uganda. The last leg of his trip will take him to the Central African Republic, a country riddled with violence between Christians and Muslims.
Francis’ first Africa tour is his 11th visit abroad since he became pope in 2013.
Africa is home to an estimated 180 million Catholics, and their numbers are growing faster than anywhere else in the world.