Pope Francis departed Rome on a flight bound for Nairobi, Kenya, on Wednesday as he began an African mission to bridge the gap between Christians and Muslims. Aside from Kenya, the Pope will also be visiting Uganda. The two countries are among those in the continent that have suffered from Islamist militant attacks.
It will be Pope Francis' first visit to Africa, according to News Max. He is expected to stay in the continent until Nov. 30.
"We are living at a time when religious believers, and persons of goodwill everywhere are called to foster mutual understanding and respect, and to support each other as members of our one human family," Pope Francis said during his pre-departure message.
His visit is expected to draw millions of Christians, prompting Kenya's inspector general of police Joseph Boinnet to order the tightest security arrangement possible.
"We are ready to receive him," Boinnet said. "Security arrangements have been put in place, right from arrival."
Boinnet did not reveal how many members of the police will be deployed in the capital where Pope Francis will hold mass at the University of Nairobi. However, Kenyan media have already pegged that around 10,000 members of the police will be involved.
The number of Catholic Africans is fast growing. The Catholic population in the continent was placed at 200 million in 2012. It is estimated that the number will grow to half a billion by 2050. In Kenya alone, around 30 percent of the 45 million population are baptised Catholics, including its President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The presence of the pope hopes to lift up the spirit of locals who have been plagued by attacks from Somalia's Islamist group al Shabaab, who have been responsible for hundreds of deaths. In 2013, 67 people were killed when al Shabaab gunmen opened fire on the public.
Kenyan presidential spokesman Manoah Esipisu said Pope Francis' visit will hopefully heal the ethnic rifts that have long been the bane of Kenya.
"Pope Francis' visit to Kenya will be focused on inclusivity and reconciliation in relation to ethnic and religious tolerance, peace, and stability," Esipisu said.