During his 3-nation apostolic voyage to Africa, care of creation featured prominently in Pope Francis’ agenda. Soon after landing in Nairobi, Pope Francis planted a tree at State House, and later in his speech to Kenya authorities, noted that “Kenya has been blessed not only with immense beauty, in its mountains, rivers and lakes, its forests, savannahs and semi-deserts, but also by an abundance of natural resources”.
On the second day of his Kenyan-leg of his trip, the Holy Father addressed diplomats and United Nations Staff, at the United Nations complex in Nairobi. The United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) hosts the global headquarters of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN Habitat).
Conference Room 2 at the UN Complex was filled to capacity, and offered Pope Francis with ululations, applause and cheers as he entered the conference hall, flanked by Cardinal Peter Turkson (President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace) and Cardinal Pietro Parolin (Secretary of State) . The three top UN officials present, Sahle-Work Zewde, UNON Director-General; Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director; and Joan Clos, UN-Habitat Executive Director, all recognized and lauded the role that Pope Francis is playing in global environmental leadership. Mr. Steiner then invited Pope Francis, to “speak from the heart of Africa, to the hearts of people across the world”.
Pope Francis began his address by highlighting the importance of tree planting, a task which he had been invited to carry out upon his arrival at the UNON Complex. “Planting a tree is first and foremost an invitation to continue the battle against phenomena like deforestation and desertification”, said the Holy Father, adding that “it reminds us of the importance of safeguarding and responsibly administering those “richly biodiverse lungs of our planet”, which include, on this continent, “the Congo basins”, a place essential “for the entire earth and for the future of humanity”. (Laudato Si’, 38)
Making reference to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21), which has now kicked-off in Paris, Pope Francis warned that “it would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information to protect their own plans and projects”. The Holy Father insisted that the world is confronted with a choice: “either to improve or to destroy the environment”. On COP21, he expressed his hope that the conference will achieve an agreement that lessens the impact of climate change, fights poverty and ensures respect for human dignity-three goals which are all interdependent.
Education and training was yet another focus of the Pope’s address, as a way of fostering a new culture which promotes “care for oneself, care for others, care for the environment-in place of a culture of waste”. Nairobi is one of the Africa’s largest urban centres and its 4 million plus residents have not been spared by urban challenges such as inadequate and poor housing, crime, inefficient transport infrastructure among others. In addressing these shortfalls, Pope Francis encouraged local and international actors to “promote projects of city planning and maintenance of public areas”, while considering views of local residents, as a way to eliminate “the many instances of inequality and pockets of urban poverty which are not simply economic, but also above all, social and environmental”.
In his concluding remarks, Pope Francis noted that “Africa offers the whole world a beauty and natural richness which inspire praise of the Creator”. The Pope was, however, quick to add that the continent’s resources are constantly exposed to the risk of destruction as a result of human selfishness, giving the examples of the illegal trade in diamonds and precious stones, rare metals, wood, ivory trafficking and the killing of elephants, activities which fuel political instability, organized crime and terrorism.
This was the second time Pope Francis was visiting the United Nations, having addressed the UN General Assembly last September. CYNESA draws tremendous strength and encouragement from the Holy Father’s address and will re-double her efforts in promoting Laudato Si’ among young people in the Church in Africa.
Executive Director, CYNESA.