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Kenyan security officials on high alert for papal visit

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IMAGE: CNS photo/Dai Kurokawa, EPA

By Mike O’Maera

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) — A Kenyan bishop said the church is comfortable with the security preparations for the reception of Pope Francis, in the wake of the Paris attacks that appear to have targeted crowded areas.

“The church and the Kenyan government have worked well,” Bishop Anthony Muheria of Kitui told Catholic News Service. “We have received sufficient support from the state, because the pope is visiting the country both as the head of the Catholic Church and head of state.”

Kenya’s security agencies are on a high alert following the Islamic State attacks in Paris Nov. 13, and security agents can be seen moving around the venues where Pope Francis will hold public functions during his Nov. 25-27 visit. At the University of Nairobi grounds, security has tightened, and the students as well as the staff have had to contend with stringent security checks.

In April, the terrorist group al-Shabab attacked Garissa University, and 147 students were killed. That the papal Mass is being held in a university has caused heightened security plans.

“All our gates have added security personnel, and each one has to go through physical body checks at every entry, including the lecture halls and offices. We have been advised not to carry unnecessary bags into the compound and lecture halls,” said Joseph Oronjo, a student at the University of Nairobi.

Joseph Boinnet, inspector general of police, has urged Kenyans to remain vigilant and support the security forces during the pope’s visit.

“While we the police have stepped up vigilance, we call on the public to exercise maximum level of alertness,” Boinnet said. “The terror threats remains real in our country. I urge everyone to report any suspicious activity and/or persons to the police or any security agency for action.”

Bishop Muheria described Pope Francis as “a walking Gospel” in his demeanor and handling of people.

“The Holy Father reflects the concern and love Our Lord Jesus Christ had for the people of God; he radiates the peace and love of our Savior, he is a walking Gospel among us,” the bishop said. “His coming to us is a special gift that we don’t deserve, but he has chosen to bless this country and continent by his coming.”

Bishop Dominic Kimengich of Lodwar called the pope’s visit “a great blessing.” He said Catholics from the dioceses planned to take buses for the more than 400-mile trip to the papal Mass.

Bishop Anthony Ireri Mukobo of Isiolo said he believed Pope Francis would bring a message of peace that would unite the country, especially in the volatile north where his apostolic vicariate is located. He, too, said Catholics and non-Catholics were preparing to travel to the papal Mass in large numbers.

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