World leaders head to Rome for Pope’s inaugural mass

PTI Vatican City | Updated on March 12, 2018

World leaders arrived in Rome ahead of an inauguration mass for Pope Francis who receives compatriot President Cristina Kirchner of Argentina today in his first meeting with a head of state.

The first pontiff from Latin America had testy relations with Kirchner when he was Buenos Aires’ Archbishop, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, particularly over gay marriage and abortion laws.

The Pope has won hearts with his humble style but is haunted by criticism at home for failing to speak out during Argentina’s brutal ‘Dirty War’ when he was head of the country’s Jesuits.

The Vatican has firmly denied claims that he failed to protect two Jesuit priests who were tortured by the 1976-1983 regime, saying that he had in fact protected lives during the dictatorship.

Francis’s reign is already proving ground-breaking with an informal style that is not customary in the Vatican’s austere halls of power.

He has called for a “poor Church for the poor”, has warned cardinals against worldly glories and has said the Church could crumble away “like a sand castle” without spiritual renewal.

The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics will be formally enthroned tomorrow day at a mass in St Peter’s Square, with city authorities preparing for an influx of up to a million people to Rome.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault are among European leaders set to attend, along with EU President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe flew into Rome on Monday, sidestepping a travel ban that applies to the EU but not to the sovereign Vatican City state.

Mugabe has been widely criticised for human rights abuses in the southern African country he has ruled uninterrupted since 1980.

As he arrived, there was fresh controversy in Zimbabwe over the arrest of four of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s aides and a prominent human rights lawyer.

A practising Catholic, the 89-year-old Mugabe visited the Vatican previously in 2011 for the beatification of late Pope John Paul II.

In 2005, he attended John Paul II’s funeral on a visit that drew controversy after Britain’s Prince Charles shook hands with him.

US Vice-President Joe Biden, also a practising Catholic, arrived late on Sunday to represent Washington at the event precipitated by the shock resignation of Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI.

The Pope’s meeting with Kirchner later today will be closely watched as a first diplomatic test.

Upon Bergoglio’s surprise election as Pontiff, Kirchner tersely wished him a “fruitful pastoral mission”, noting that he had “tremendous responsibility on his shoulders, seeking justice, equality, brotherhood and peace among mankind.”

Published on March 18, 2013

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