The beatification of Bl. John Paul II is indeed a joyous occasion – the celebration of a life lived with purpose and sacrifice. A life lived in servitude to Christ and as a moral and shining light to all Catholics worldwide, this despite some shameful controversies in the Church which have bedevilled his past; he reached out to the world with love and charity.
In his Encyclical ‘Evangelium vitae’ Pope John Paul II writes of the sanctity of human life:
The incomparable worth of the human person
2 Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God. The loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness and the inestimable value of human life even in its temporal phase. Life in time, in fact, is the fundamental condition, the initial stage and an integral part of the entire unified process of human existence. It is a process which, unexpectedly and undeservedly, is enlightened by the promise and renewed by the gift of divine life, which will reach its full realization in eternity (cf. 1 Jn 3:1-2). At the same time, it is precisely this supernatural calling which highlights the relative character of each individual’s earthly life. After all, life on earth is not an “ultimate” but a “penultimate” reality; even so, it remains a sacred reality entrusted to us, to be preserved with a sense of responsibility and brought to perfection in love and in the gift of ourselves to God and to our brothers and sisters.1
Robert Mugabe on the other hand, does not come with the same ‘provenance’, in fact his dismal human rights conduct is a matter of public record! One only has to peruse the recent history of a Zimbabwe under Mugabe’s tenure to find re-assurance of this! Yet he sets out on his ‘absolutely heavenly’ trip without, apparently, so much as a question from the curia!
Just before he left, he once again lashed out at the local Catholic Bishops Conference using an indigenous African parish as his political platform; he declared that they [Catholic bishops] “are mere puppets of Western countries. I grew up in the Catholic Church but now I am totally frustrated by how these so-called men of God lie. All Catholic bishops are liars, they demonize my party every day.”2
A few days later Mugabe is being embraced by a Catholic Cardinal – this can only have done Zimbabwe’s bishops severe harm! Imagine the next time Mr Mugabe feels compelled to berate the bishops in Zimbabwe; he will point to this photo opportunity and ask them where they now stand when their superiors embrace him in friendship. I am sure that what happened was quite in accord with diplomatic protocol but Mugabe is a past master of manipulating situations to suit his own agenda. Think back to the handshake with Prince Charles at the late Pope’s funeral.
Diplomacy or not, we are not talking here of the state but of an individual. An individual who has flouted so many Catholic principles as to make his Catholicity farcical. Perhaps diplomacy dictated this distasteful invite but why show such enthusiasm? As an editorial in The Southern Cross puts it: “Clearly, however, Mr Mugabe was made to feel thoroughly welcome. And it is at the televised sight of the tyrant being warmly embraced by a broadly smiling prelate that Catholics may register indignation.”3
As for his then receiving the Holy Eucharist, the Church is right in that this is a matter of personal conscience and as stated by Cardinal Napier: “For any Christian, receiving Communion is an act of personal choice made out of conscience before God. As such, it is a matter for the internal forum — between God and the believer. No person but Mr Mugabe and perhaps his confessor can know whether he was in a state of grace when he presented himself for Communion in St Peter’s Square. It is not our place to interrogate Mr Mugabe internal forum.”4
This, though, flies in the wind of the interdicts placed on American legislators of Catholic standpoint, who advocate or promote the evil of abortion! In my opinion, the conduct of both parties is reprehensible!
In his encyclical ‘Ecclesia de Eucharistia’, Pope John Paul said:
Precisely to bring out more clearly this deeper meaning of liturgical norms, I have asked the competent offices of the Roman Curia to prepare a more specific document, including prescriptions of a juridical nature, on this very important subject. No one is permitted to undervalue the mystery entrusted to our hands: it is too great for anyone to feel free to treat it lightly and with disregard for its sacredness and its universality.5
We are instructed to treat the Eucharist with the utmost respect, a respect due to the greatest treasure that the Church or indeed mankind possesses – the body of our Lord in the host of the Eucharist – the Church would do well to examine this pronouncement carefully in consequence of Mr Mugabe’s visit to Rome!
1. The encyclical “Evangelium vitae”
2. The New Republic (http://www.tnr.com) James Kirchick May 16, 2011 12:00 am “Why is Robert Mugabe visiting the Vatican?”
3. The Southern Cross Editorial, 18 May 2011 | by Günther Simmermacher
4. The Southern Cross Editorial, 18 May 2011 | by Günther Simmermacher
5. The encyclical “Ecclesia de Eucharistia”