President Mugabe says new Pope must visit Africa
ZIMBABWEAN President Robert Mugabe said on Tuesday the newly elected Roman Catholic Church leader, Pope Francis, should take time to visit the African continent during his tenure as well as treat all believers in the church equally.
President Mugabe, a devout Catholic, joined scores of international leaders and hundreds of thousands of Catholics who thronged St Peter’s Square in the Vatican City, for Pope Francis’s inauguration mass, Zimbabwe's news agency New Ziana reported.
Pope Francis, formerly the Arch-Bishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina was appointed to the helm of one of the world’s oldest churches last week, replacing 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI, who stepped down due to old age last month.
“We are happy that our (constitutional) referendum has taken place at a time we have a new Pope and we, who are catholic, are very jubilant that we have a new father in Christ and I am sure all Christian churches, all denominations are also happy that the Catholic Church now has a new overall father,” Mugabe said.
“We would want him to visit Africa in the same way Pope John Paul II did. We still remember that very important, memorable visit that he made. We wish him (Pope Francis) a long stay,” he added.
Africa has one of the fastest growing Catholic populations in the world, estimated at over 150 million in 2009.
Pope John Paul II, who died at the age of 84 and remains one of the most celebrated leaders in the history of the church, stepped on Zimbabwean soil in 1988 during one of his visits to the African continent.
Following his death in 2005, he was replaced by Pope Benedict XVI, who according to many observers, reigned under the shadow of his predecessor.
But President Mugabe said he wished the new Catholic leader well.
“We say congratulations to him, we look forward to him taking us all his children on the same basis, the basis of equality, the basis that we are all in the eyes of God, equal,” he said.
Going spiritual, Mugabe said Zimbabweans must remember the virtues in the Bible irrespective of the different religious groupings they belong to.
“Whatever is a principle, whatever is a virtue in essence remains the same. It is we the people who abuse these principles, take advantage of them or actually disobey them,” he said, while stressing that abiding by the teachings of the Bible such as ‘loving one another’ encouraged peace among Zimbabweans, especially as the country heads for elections midyear.
“Understanding of Bible teachings is critical for unity in the country,” Mugabe said.
Zimbabwe heads towards a watershed election, which heralds the end of four-year tenure for a shaky inclusive government made up of the top political parties in the country.
Meanwhile, Mugabe met with Auxiliary Bishop to Rome, Bishop Matteo Zuppi, who played an instrumental role in bringing peace to Mozambique.
Bishop Matteo, who was accompanied by Saint Egidio’s international relations head, Dr Mauro Garofalo, applauded Zimbabweans for the direction in which they were taking the country.
“We congratulate the Zimbabwean people for these process, we know that this is the right way to go for complete reconciliation in the country,” Dr Garofalo told journalists after the meetings.
Zimbabweans last Saturday voted overwhelmingly for a new constitution during a referendum setting the stage for elections widely expected by mid-year. -Bernama