The Vatican's ambassador to Kenya and South Sudan has revealed a number of details of Pope Francis' expected November visit to three African countries, including the likely dates of the pontiff's travels and the issues he may highlight in his first sojourn to the continent.
Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo says Francis is planning a whirlwind five-night tour to three African capitals: Nairobi, in Kenya from Nov. 25-27; Kampala, in Uganda from Nov. 27-29; and Bangui, in the Central African Republic from Nov. 29-30.
Taking place just two months after the pontiff's upcoming September visit to Cuba and the U.S., the African tour could be the scene of some dramatic moments -- especially in the Central African Republic, which has experienced reoccurring and bloody sectarian conflicts over the past decade.
Balvo, the apostolic nuncio to Kenya and South Sudan, spoke about the trip in an exclusive interview last week with the Catholic News Agency for Africa, a new independent news service focused on covering Catholic news on the continent.
The archbishop spoke most of the Kenyan part of the trip, saying Francis is expected to have a public Mass in Nairobi and a meeting with area priests and religious. The pontiff, said Balvo, will also likely visit the U.N. offices in the city and one of the area slums.
Slums in Nairobi are known for their expansive and permanent nature, with one, Kibera, housing a population estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
Balvo says he thinks the pope wants to make the trip particularly "in relation to the political situation in Central African Republic, the serious unrest, the violence, that was a concern to him."
"These kind of things, migrants, immigrants, places where there is some social unrest, are of special concern to him," said the archbishop. "If people can remember, the first trip out of Rome that he made was to the small island of Lampedusa, where many of the migrants on these ramshackle boats that leave the North African coast often end up."
Balvo also reveals the theme the Kenyan bishops have given Francis' visit to their country: "To stay strong in the faith." The archbishop says he is not sure how the bishops will manage the high numbers expected at the pope's events and says that for those living in rural areas, the only access to events may be by radio.
"I know that the Bishops here have chosen as their theme 'to stand strong in the faith,' and I think that when the Holy Father comes, one of the tasks that Jesus gave to St. Peter ... was to strengthen his brothers in the faith," states Balvo.
"I think the Holy Father wants to do that, to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the faith, his presence to be a kind of something that will push people to encourage to live their faith not only interiorly in their life of prayer but also in their life in influencing society so that the society in Kenya can also be even more filled with the values, which come from the gospel for our faith," he said.