Skip to main content

Zimbabwe's Mugabe arrives for pope's inaugural

By Hada Messia and Joe Sterling, CNN
updated 11:37 AM EDT, Mon March 18, 2013
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, shown at the State House in Harare on January 17, has been in power for decades.
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, shown at the State House in Harare on January 17, has been in power for decades.
  • A European Union travel ban on Mugabe does not apply to Vatican visits
  • Mugabe has been much criticized for human rights abuses
  • He visited the Vatican in 2005 and 2011

(CNN) -- Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's controversial president, is under a European Union travel ban, but he arrived in Italy for the inauguration of Pope Francis on Monday.

The much reviled leader can skirt the EU travel ban if he enters Italy on religious grounds, the Italian Foreign Ministry said Monday.

Mugabe and a delegation traveled to Rome, Italy's capital, and will head to the Vatican, a separate state, for the Tuesday ceremony.

The 89-year-old, in power for decades, visited the Vatican in 2011 for the beatification of the late Pope John Paul II. He attended that pope's funeral in 2005.

A day of prayer, song, pomp to welcome new pope

Christiane Amanpour & Robert Mugabe 2009
Mugabe's many birthdays in power

In power for decades, he has been sharply criticized for rights abuses and turning the nation from a breadbasket into a financial basket case. The presence of a man widely regarded as a brutal dictator, juxtaposed with a pope who preaches peace, has raised eyebrows.

Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Westminster, who attended the 2011 ceremony, said, according to the Daily Mail, that Mugabe's record on human rights was deplorable and "it felt uncomfortable to be in his presence."

Controversy erupted in 2005, when Britain's Prince Charles found himself seated near Mugabe at the funeral and at one point shook his hand. A spokesman for the prince later said that was a mistake, that Charles was caught by surprise after Mugabe offered his hand.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said last week that the Holy See did not formally invite diplomatic missions to attend the Mass, instead simply informing countries through diplomatic channels that the event is taking place.

The pope's four biggest challenges

Even countries with which the Vatican does not have diplomatic relations, such as Saudi Arabia, are informed of major events such as the installation or funeral of a pope, he said.

The Vatican Press Office said it could not yet provide a full list of attendees for the ceremony. The Bernini Bristol Hotel in Rome confirms it has hotel reservations for a Zimbabwean delegation but did not provide names.

Mugabe arrived amid political turmoil in Zimbabwe. Police raided an office of Zimbabwe's prime minister on Sunday. Four officials with the office are accused of impersonating police, Zimbabwe police spokeswoman Charity Charamba told reporters.

The raid came a day after a national referendum to approve a new constitution that would impose presidential term limits for the first time in Zimbabwe.

The results of the vote are not yet known, and it came just a few months before Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is expected to run against Mugabe in presidential elections. The two leaders entered a power-sharing agreement in 2009

If approved, which is highly likely, the new constitution will give more powers to the parliament and limit the president's. It also introduces a two-term limit of five years each for a president. But the limit would not apply retroactively, which means Mugabe could have 10 more years as head of state if he is re-elected.

Complete coverage: Pope Francis

Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:59 PM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Pope Francis wants to bring hope to Christians and other ethnic and religious groups suffering "brutal persecution" in Iraq and Syria.
updated 8:54 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The Pope unleashes a blistering critique of the Vatican bureaucracy criticizing its "illnesses" and likening the church to "a sick body."
updated 5:32 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Pope Francis celebrated his birthday with a major geopolitical wish granted: The end of frozen relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
updated 11:59 AM EST, Tue December 2, 2014
Pope Francis said that modern slavery is a "crime against humanity" and is "unfortunately becoming worse and worse every day."
updated 5:31 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
Pope Francis is to make his first trip to the United States as the head of the Catholic Church next September.
A Vatican report says the church should welcome and appreciate gays and lesbians.
updated 8:59 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Using his strongest language to date, Pope Francis told Italian Mafia members that they are excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Fri June 20, 2014
Drugs, capitalism, homosexuality -- no topic has been off limits for Pope Francis so far.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Sat June 14, 2014
Pope Francis reveals he prefers not to use a bulletproof Popemobile because it is a glass "sardine can" that walls him off from people.
updated 12:58 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
Palestinian Authority President Abbas and Israeli President Peres committed themselves to the quest for peace in the Middle East with Pope Francis.
updated 2:46 PM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
As the Holy Land prepares for a papal visit, Ivan Watson speaks to the man preparing to honor the pontiff with his food.
updated 12:31 PM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
Not a jot of doctrine has changed in the year since Francis became Pope. But there's more than one way to measure his impact.
updated 10:01 AM EST, Sat February 22, 2014
Pope Francis created 19 new cardinals in a ceremony in the Vatican's St. Peter's Basilica -- the first such appointments since he was elected pontiff.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
"The spring evening in which Pope Francis was elected is an apt symbol of the beginning of his papacy and the years that will follow," writes a priest.
updated 4:10 PM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Take a look at Pope Francis' first year as head of the Roman Catholic Church with our gallery.
updated 6:43 PM EST, Thu November 7, 2013
It was the embrace that melted hearts worldwide.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed April 3, 2013
Pope Francis kisses and hugs disabled boy lifted up in the crowd on Easter Sunday.
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sat March 16, 2013
Pope Francis is being painted as a humble and simple man, but his past is complicated and tinged with controversy.