Commercialism is well established in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. The first sign advertising merchandise for Christmas shoppers that I noticed was strung across one of the main roads near the center of the city as early as November 1.
A large number of people in the area are, of course, very poor and they do not have money to spend on the upscale advertised merchandise. They have barely enough to buy the minimum of food.
What strikes me about this is the patient and generally pleasant spirit even among many of the very poor. Beside poverty that is inflicted unjustly on them, they have been gifted with a certain spirit of poverty that they have willingly adopted. In that spirit they have found a certain peace that is a blessing.
Make no mistake about it, though: the many slums around Nairobi, housing probably more than two million people, are ripe for an uprising not unlike what we are seeing in Northern Africa and in other parts of the Arab world. Whether such an uprising, if it were to take place in Kenya, would be peaceful is difficult to predict, since many of the poor living in the slums are young and aware of the corruption that at least partly causes poverty. And many of these young poor are harboring feelings of oppression and violence.
Since most of those living in and around Nairobi are Christians, they will be celebrating Christmas with much rejoicing and with long religious ceremonies. The Mass that I attended last year at midnight on Christmas was celebrated in the local language and lasted well over two hours, with much singing and dancing. And the songs tend to have components that are interminably repetitious.
This year I will be attending a Mass celebrated in English at the local parish. Many of the students I teach will be present and we will be praying for all the Kenyan people and all the people around the world suffering the oppression of corruption and poverty. The prayer will be joined with the pope’s plea that he had made during his two visits to Africa, the most recent just last month. Each time he has warned that corruption in government must be stopped if poverty was to end and justice prevail in Africa.
The spirit of poverty is a blessing that we all need, and one that Therese has at the heart of her little way; but abject material poverty in a country where there is much squandered wealth is a cruel and violent evil that needs to be brought to an end.