Pope Francis said on Thursday in Kenya, a country that has seen a spate of attacks by Islamist militants, that dialogue between religions in Africa was essential to teach young people that violence in God’s name was unjustified.
Bridging divisions between Muslims and Christians is a main theme of his first tour of the continent that also takes him to Uganda, which like Kenya has seen a number of Islamist attacks, and the Central African Republic, riven by sectarian conflict.
Starting his first full day in the Kenyan capital, Francis met Muslim and other religious leaders before saying an open-air Mass for tens of thousands of rain-drenched people who sang, danced and ululated as he arrived in an open popemobile.
“All too often, young people are being radicalised in the name of religion to sow discord and fear, and to tear at the very fabric of our societies,” he told about 25 religious leaders.
Inter-religious dialogue “is not a luxury. It is not something extra or optional, but essential,” he told them, stressing that God’s name “must never be used to justify hatred and violence.”
He referred to Somalia’s al Shabaab Islamists’ 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall and this year’s assault on Garissa university. Hundreds of people have been killed in the past two years or so, with Christians sometimes singled out by gunmen.
The chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, Abdulghafur El-Busaidy, called for cooperation and tolerance. “As people of one God and of this world, we must stand up and in unison,” he told the pope.