The beatification ceremony of the late Pope John Paul II in the Vatican will have at least one very unusual guest – Robert Mugabe, the murderous dictator of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe, a Roman Catholic, arrived in Rome with his wife Grace, despite a travel ban imposed on him by the European Union since 2002 due to his regime’s many human rights violations.
However, the Vatican – where the ceremony will occur is a sovereign state and not a member of the EU. Still, Mugabe needed a special dispensation to transit through Italy, a member of the EU.
The foreign ministry of Italy asked the EU for a temporary exemption from the travel ban on Mugabe.
A spokesman for the Vatican, Rev. Federico Lombardi of the Holy See Press office. said Mugabe was not personally invited, but he was eligible to attend the beatification since he is the head of state of a country that has relations with the Vatican.
It [the Vatican] cannot tell Mugabe not to come if he wants to take part, just like it wouldn't tell no to [U.S. President Barack] Obama or [France’s President Nicolas] Sarkozy, if they had wanted to come, Lombardi said.
Indeed, Mugabe also visited Rome in 2005 to attend the funeral of John Paul II, and also joined UN conferences in the city in 2008 and 2009.
A total of 22 world leaders and 87 international delegations will attend Sunday's ceremony in St Peter's Square. Hundreds of thousands of Catholic pilgrims, including 250,000 from John Paul II’s native Poland will also attend, according to a Vatican spokesman.
After the ceremony on Monday the body of the former pope will be reburied in the chapel of St Sebastian in St Peter's Basilica.
The cost of the beatification ceremony will be 3.5 million euros, according to government officials.