Pope Francis waves to local residents as he drives to St. Joseph The Worker Catholic Church in the Kangemi slum of Nairobi, Kenya Friday, Nov. 27, 2015. Pope Francis is in Kenya on his first-ever trip to Africa, a six-day pilgrimage that will also take him to Uganda and the Central African Republic.
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Visiting one of Nairobi’s many shantytowns on Friday, Pope Francis denounced conditions slum-dwellers are forced to live in, saying access to safe water is a basic human right and that everyone should have dignified, adequate housing.
Residents of the Kangemi slum lined the mud streets to welcome Francis, standing alongside goats and hens outside the corrugated tin-roofed shacks where many of the shantytown’s small businesses operate: beauty parlors, cellphone “top-up” shops and storefront evangelical churches.
Those lucky enough to score a spot at St. Joseph’s parish erupted in cheers and hymns when Francis arrived, ululating and waving paper flags printed with his photo and the “Kariba Kenya” welcome that has been ubiquitous on the pope’s first-ever visit to Africa.
In remarks to the crowd, Francis insisted that everyone should have access to water, a basic sewage system, garbage collection, electricity as well as schools, hospitals and sport facilities.
“To deny a family water, under any bureaucratic pretext whatsoever, is a great injustice, especially when one profits from this need,” he said.
Francis, known as the “slum pope” for his ministry in Buenos Aires’ shantytowns, has frequently insisted on the need for the three “Ls” — land, labor and lodging — and on Friday he focused on lodging as a critical issue facing the world amid rapid urbanization that is helping to upset Earth’s delicate ecological balance.
Kangemi is one of 11 slums dotting Nairobi, East Africa’s largest city, and is home to about 50,000 people. The U.N. Habitat program says some 60 percent of Nairobi’s population lives on just 6 percent of the city’s residential land in these unofficial settlements lacking basic sanitation or regular running water.
Francis denounced the practice of private corporations grabbing land illegally, depriving schools of their playgrounds and forcing the poor into ever more tightly packed slums, where violence and addiction are rampant.
In January, police tear-gassed schoolchildren demonstrating against the removal of their school’s playground, which has been allegedly grabbed by powerful people. After an outcry, the Kenyan government declared the playground the property of the school.
“These are wounds inflicted by minorities who cling to power and wealth, who selfishly squander while a growing majority is forced to flee to abandoned, filthy and run-down peripheries,” Francis said.
Francis told the residents that people forced to live in slums actually share values that wealthier neighborhoods can learn from: solidarity and looking out for one another. But he said it was unjust that entire families are forced to live in unfit housing, often at exorbitant prices.
He called for a “respectful urban integration” with concrete initiatives to provide good quality housing for all.
His message was welcomed by residents of Kangemi, who said the city only pipes in water three days a week, Tuesday through Thursday, but it’s not safe to drink. Garbage collection goes to only those who can pay for it.
“Some people don’t have toilets in their homes,” said Emily Night, a mother of two who works at the St. Joseph’s HIV counseling program. “Those that do, maybe 50 people are using it!”
Things aren’t much better in nearby Kibera.
“It’s difficult. There is no water. We drink well water,” said Rebecca Nanzala, who attended the pope’s visit with the youngest of her three children, 2-year-old Mary. “Some treat it, some don’t.”
Francis raised the issue of environmental deterioration in cities in his landmark encyclical “Praise Be,” saying many megacities today have simply become health threats, “not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise.”
After the visit to Kangemi, Francis received a rock-star welcome at Kasarani stadium, where he zoomed around the track in his open-sided popemobile to the delight of the crowd. The stadium was so packed with the faithful that many more stood outside, unable to enter.
As he tends to do when surrounded by young people, Francis ditched his prepared speech and spoke off-the-cuff at length about problems Kenyan young people are facing, including the temptation to go the way of Kenya’s many corrupt officials and institutions or to go off and join an extremist group.
Francis told the crowd that the way to prevent the young from being radicalized is to give them an education and a job.
“If a young person has no work, what kind of a future does he or she have? That’s where the idea of being recruited comes from,” he said.
Kenyans make up the largest contingent of foreign fighters in the Somali based al-Qaida-linked extremist group al-Shabab, which has staged attacks in Kenya.
Francis also urged the kids to resist the temptation of corruption, saying it’s like sugar: You develop a taste for it but it’s ultimately terrible for you.
After meeting with Kenya’s bishops, Francis headed to Uganda for the second leg of his trip.
On Sunday, he is due to arrive in the Central African Republic.
Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield