November 30, 2015 — On Nov. 27, Pope Francis visited the Jesuit-run St. Joseph the Worker Church in a Nairobi slum during his six-day visit to Africa. Speaking at the church, the pope condemned the “injustices” of urban poverty and substandard living conditions.
Residents were thrilled not only that the pope would take time to visit them, but that the government fixed several roads, installed some street lights and unblocked some water pipes in preparation for the visit. Between 55 percent and 65 percent of Nairobi’s population live in the slums. Many have no drinking water, electricity, sewage system or regular garbage collection.
Pope Francis with Jesuits of the Eastern Africa Province.
Pope Francis told those gathered at St. Joseph the Worker that he had an obligation to denounce the injustices that keep the slum dwellers living in such desperate circumstances. But he also urged the people to recognize the values they have and that the world needs: solidarity, celebration, taking care to bury the dead, making more room at one’s table and taking in the sick — all characteristic of people in the world’s poorest neighborhoods.
Such values, he said, are “grounded in the fact that each human being is more important than the god of money. Thank you for reminding us that another type of culture is possible.”
While those values “are not quoted in the stock exchange,” Pope Francis said, they are the true “signs of good living.”
St. Joseph the Worker runs a variety of programs for the community, including a primary and technical secondary school, a women’s craft and sewing program, a small healthcare center and an HIV and gender-based violence program.
Students from St. Joseph Primary School hold a banner welcoming Pope Francis.
Pope Francis said that the problems faced in the makeshift communities “are not a random combination of unrelated problems”; they are “the consequence of new forms of colonialism,” which see African countries as “cogs on a gigantic wheel” and a storehouse of natural resources to plunder.
He denounced the high rent that absentee landlords charge for “utterly unfit housing” in the slum. He also insisted that governments have an obligation to ensure their citizens have “toilets, sewers, drains, refuse collection, electricity” and access to schools, hospitals and open space for recreation.
Pope Francis greets a woman at St. Joseph the Worker Church.
To a round of applause, the pope also insisted that access to drinking water be provided in the slums. “Access to safe, drinkable water is a basic and universal human right,” he said.