NAIROBI • Pope Francis said yesterday 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, Pope Francis met Muslim and other religious leaders before 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 College in Kenya. Hundreds of people have been killed in the past two years or so, with Christians sometimes singled out by gunmen.
Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims chairman 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.
Pope Francis' African tour is also addressing the continent's fast-growing Catholic population, which is expected to reach half a billion by 2050. A third of Kenya's 45 million people are Catholics. Tens of thousands of them gathered in pouring rain from before dawn to attend the Pope's open-air mass in central Nairobi.
Representatives of Kenya's tribes also ascended the papal altar platform to read prayers.
In his homily at the mass, Pope Francis urged the faithful "to resist practices which foster arrogance in men", speaking in a nation rattled by a series of corruption scandals.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, a Catholic who attended the mass, reshuffled his Cabinet this week after several ministers were embroiled in graft allegations.
When not in his popemobile, the Pope was driven in a Honda car, starkly different to the Mercedes and other luxury vehicles used by top officials in Kenya where many people live in city slums or villages without electricity.
Giving his address at mass in a sodden sports field at Nairobi University, the Pope urged young people on a continent with a large youth population to resist the "new deserts created by a culture of materialism and indifference" and to build a more just society.