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Zimbabwe's Mugabe in Rome for John Paul II's beatification

From Hada Messia, CNN
Bishop James Harvey welcomes Robert Mugabe before the funeral of Pope John Paul II on April 8, 2005.
Bishop James Harvey welcomes Robert Mugabe before the funeral of Pope John Paul II on April 8, 2005.
  • Mugabe is subject to a travel ban for alleged human rights abuses
  • The Vatican says it cannot tell him not to attend, just as it cannot ask Obama not to come
  • The late Pope John Paul II will be beatified in a ceremony at St. Peter's Basilica on Sunday
  • John Paul II will then be just one step from sainthood

Rome (CNN) -- Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe arrived in Rome for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II, airport officials said Saturday, despite his EU-wide travel ban for alleged human rights abuses.

The Vatican did not personally invite Mugabe to the Sunday event, said the Rev. Federico Lombardi of the Holy See Press office.

But a diplomatic relationship exists between Zimbabwe and the Vatican, a sovereign state that is not a member of the European Union.

"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 (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy, if they had wanted to come," Lombardi said.

The beatification is the biggest event in Vatican City since Pope John Paul II's death six years ago.

Hundreds of thousands of Catholic faithful will gather in St. Peter's Square to witness the ceremony, the penultimate step toward the pontiff's sainthood.

On Friday, workers exhumed the pope's casket from its tomb in the Vatican Grottoes.

"As can be recalled, the Pope was buried in three coffins," Lombardi said. "The first of wood -- which was displayed during the funeral. The second of lead, which is sealed. And the third -- external one -- which is also made of wood and was the one revealed this morning at the moment of the extraction from the tomb.

"It is in a good state of preservation, even though showing signs of the passage of time."

After the Sunday ceremony, the casket's permanent home is likely to be the basilica's Chapel of St. Sebastian.

Beatification means the candidate can be referred to as "blessed," and that one miracle has been confirmed in his or her name. Another miracle is required for canonization, the formal act of declaring someone a saint.

While normally a person cannot become a saint until 50 years after their death, John Paul II was put on a fast track to sainthood by the current Pope Benedict XVI, who waived the normal five-year waiting period to begin the beatification process.

The city will also provide 3,000 police and traffic officers, thousands of volunteers and additional buses and metro services.

A no-fly zone will be in effect over St. Peter's Square, and field hospitals and medical assistance points will be set up.

The cost of the beatification ceremony to the city of Rome alone will be 3.5 million euros, according to government officials.