Kenya’s President Meets Pope Francis in Historic Visit, “bilateral relations highlighted”

President Uhuru Kenyatta holding talks with Pope Francis at the Vatican Friday, November 6, 2020.
Credit: ©️Vatican Media

Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta met Pope Francis on Friday, November 6 at the Vatican, making him the first Head of State of the East African nation to pay the Holy Father a courtesy visit at the Holy See, the headquarters of the Catholic Church.

During the meeting, the “good existing bilateral relations were highlighted,” a November 6 report by Holy See’s Press Office indicates.

President Kenyatta’s visit to the Vatican was at the invitation of the Holy Father, a November 6 report by officials of the President’s official residence, State House indicate.

On arrival at the Pope’s residence shortly after 10 a.m. Central European Time, the President was accorded a full Apostolic Palace State reception including a guard of honor mounted by the Swiss Guards, the State House officials say.

President Kenyatta later met the Vatican's Secretary of State, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, as well as the Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher. 

During the meeting, the Vatican and Kenyan delegations discussed matters of mutual interest between the two nations such as education, health, regional peace and security as well as the fight against COVID-19.

In the November 6 report, State House officials note that the Catholic Church in Kenya “runs 7,740 schools (31 percent of all schools in the country), manages 220 vocational institutions, five colleges and a university.”

“In healthcare, the Catholic Church is the largest non-state provider of health services in the country with close to 500 health facilities spread across the country,” Kenya’s State House officials further report.

Cognizant of the Catholic Church’s contribution in the country’s social services, the Kenyan delegation sought the Holy See’s “enhanced participation in Kenya's education, training and health sectors,” the State House officials say.

The participation of the Holy See is in support of the Government's Big four Agenda especially the ongoing roll out of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) program, they add.

During the meeting at the Vatican Palace, the members of the two delegations also discussed Kenya's role in regional peace and security “especially in South Sudan where His Holiness Pope Francis is personally involved.”

“Kenya's stature as a guarantor of regional peace and stability is set to rise in coming months as the East African nation takes up its non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council,” the Kenyan officials have reported.

In an interview ahead of the visit, Kenya’s ambassador to the Holy See, Prof. Judy Wakhungu said that President Kenyatta's “rare audience” with the Holy Father “signifies the high regard in which Pope Francis holds the Kenyan leader.”

"This visit is extremely rare. The reason that it is rare is that it is not usual for the Holy Father to have an audience with just any Head of State. He values the role that our President is playing in very many aspects," Prof. Wakhungu has been quoted as saying in the November 6 report.

She added that Kenya is an “attractive partner” of the Holy See “because of its impressive profile as a regional peacemaker and the country's growing influence as it prepares to occupy its seat on the UN Security Council.”

Kenya established diplomatic relations with the Holy See in 1965. Since then, the East African nation has played host to four Papal Pastoral Visits: in 1980, 1985, and in 1995 by Pope St. John Paul II and in 2015 by Pope Francis, the latter’s maiden visit to Africa.

According to the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), the country has an estimated population of 12 million Catholics.

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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

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