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Pope Francis offers lesson in humility to flashy African leaders

The pope waved to rapturous crowds from his white pope mobile with open sides despite pouring rain and was ferried around Nairobi in the Honda

By: Reuters | Nairobi |
November 26, 2015 8:56:31 pm
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In actions and words on his first tour of the world’s poorest continent, Pope Francis has sent a message to African leaders that they could do with less pomp and bit more humility.

In a region where presidents speed past slums in cavalcades of luxury vehicles and the public complain about corruption in high office, the pope was cheered as he drove in a small Honda and told national leaders to act with integrity.

Kenya’s prolific Twitter users were quick to notice the contrast. “Thieving politicians arrive in their SUVs and Mercs to listen to @Pontifex who will arrive in a Honda. Shameless ‘leaders’,” wrote @Kunj_Shah.

Francis, who has spurned many of the institutional perks of the Vatican, shunned the armoured cars with tinted glass driven by President Uhuru Kenyatta and his entourage.

Nor did he follow the example of visitors like U.S. President Barack Obama, who turned up in Nairobi in July for an official visit with an army of security personnel and a bullet-proof limousine, dubbed “the Beast”.

Instead, the pope waved to rapturous crowds from his white pope mobile with open sides despite pouring rain and was ferried around Nairobi in the Honda that local media said cost a modest 1.5 million shillings ($14,700).

“The pope is down to earth,” said Lucy Musyoka, 48, who braved a downpour to attend open-air Mass in a sodden Nairobi University sports field. “It is good for our leaders to notice.”

“They like the wealth of the world but they can’t understand the people of our country,” she said. “It is vanity.”

The pope lives in a small apartment in a guesthouse in the Vatican rather than the spacious papal apartments in the regal and frescoed Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors.

The day after his election in 2013, he returned to a Rome hotel to personally pay his bill and recently went to a Rome optician to pick up his own eyeglasses. In September, he rode around Washington DC in a small Fiat on his state visit there.

His Africa trip will take the Pope to Uganda and the Central African Republic, a nation mired in sectarian conflict. He dismissed security concerns, joking with reporters that the “only thing I’m concerned about is the mosquitoes”.

THE COMMON GOOD

Barely two hours after arriving in Nairobi on Wednesday, Francis told the president and dignitaries they had a duty to care for the poor and support the aspirations of the young.

“I encourage you to work with integrity and transparency for the common good, and to foster a spirit of solidarity at every level of society,” he said, speaking in the elegant surroundings of State House, the Kenyan president’s official residence.

A day earlier, Kenyatta reshuffled his cabinet after several ministers were embroiled in corruption allegations. Kenyatta, a Catholic like 30 percent of Kenya’s 45 million people, also spoke of the challenge of graft in his welcome to the pope.

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