Pope John Paul II arrived here today to the tumultuous greetings of drums, chanting and hand-clapping from one of Africa's most Christian nations.
Under a blazing blue sky, the pope kissed the earth before Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi and Ugandan President Godfrey Binaisa, both Protestants, greeted him with Kenyan Cardinal Maurice Otunga and Kenya's 12 Catholic bishops.
Catholic officials coming from every corner of the continent including cardinals, archbishops and bishops from Sudan, South Africa, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique were present.
Wednesday is a public holiday and a million people are expected to attend an open-air mass to be celebrated by the pope in central Nairobi. It is the main event in the pope's 36-hour visit here.
Buses, trains and taxis were requisitioned from throughout Kenya to bring people to Nairobi for a glimpse of the pope.
All travelers have been warned to bring their own food and blankets as all hotels have been booked for weeks. Catholic schools were closed today and turned into dormatories for the visiting Catholic nuns and priests from the countryside.
The pope had a special encounter with Kenyan youths at the airport. Singing "Welcome father, you have made us happy," in Swahili and accompanying themselves with guitars an d hand-clapping, the youths turned an otherwise solemn airport ceremony into a jamboree of love.
The pope responded in kind with the Swahili translation of "All of you, my friends, I love you," which brought immediate cheers and shouts of "John Paul, we love you" from the students.
The pope will spend one day in Kenya and apart from the mass will spend most of his time meeting Catholic and other Kenyan religious leaders.
About 70 percent of Kenya's population is Christian, and although less than a third of those are Catholic the Roman Catholic Church is growing faster here than anywhere else on the continent.
There are 50,000 Catholics missionaries in Africa. In Zaire and Congo the numbers of Catholic missionaries are declining by 5 and 7 percent a year, but here they are still slowly increasing. Kenya has 1,600 Catholic missionaries and perhaps half as many Protestants.
Their contribution to Kenya remain enormous.One-third of the country's health facilities are provided by the Catholics, and the church sponsors nearly 2,000 primary and 280 secondary schools. The Catholic Church has also initiated at least 300 small development projects such as digging wells, providing seeds and construction dams. Most of this work is done in the most remote areas of Kenya where the government's effect is weak. Famine relief and a campaign against cholera are being carried on by Catholic missions this month in Turkana district in northeastern Kenya.
Since the announcement of the pope's visit, Nairobi's Catholic churches have been inundated with requests for baptisms and marriages. T-shirts and lapel badges commemorating the visit are on sale and special issue of stamps will be issued when he leaves Thursday.