Pope Francis seems like a good bloke, but didn’t they all at one time or another in recent decades, if not in the more distant history of the Roman Catholic Church when they were corrupt and cruel? Mr Mugabe has asked Francis to come to Africa.
Here’s remembering Pope John Paul’s southern African trip (from Andrew Saxon Revisited.)
No five loaves and two fishes for the multitudes at the Catholic mass at Borrowdale race course in Harare in 1988, but vendors were hoping to make a miracle for themselves by selling hamburgers on the fringes of the service. There were few takers for the Z$4 hamburgers and as one priest put it: ”Since when do you eat hamburgers in church?”
The wilting burgers were sold off for Z$1 each to the Biblical “defenceless, the hungry and the poor” afterwards.
Mr Mugabe, a longtime symbol of the Marxist antichrist, thanked the Pope for serving the first Papal communion in Zimbabwe to his mother, Bona, whom he said was ”overjoyed.” Among the communicants was politician Herbert Ushewokunze whose political biography did not contain a keen religious background. Ushewokunze was a trained medical man and a medic to guerrilla fighters with qualifications in psychiatry who also performed as a spirit medium in pagan African rites.
The Borrowdale mass took place on a hot day and scores of people keeled over with heat stroke, fatigue, ‘toilet-insecurity’ and all the problems associated with large gatherings. As his schoolmates were whining and whimpering in scorching discomfort, a wide-eyed 10-year-old from Seke said it was ”the happiest day of my life.” Life must have been pretty grim in Seke if this was the happiest of it.
It was particularly windy at the Bulawayo mass and the 15-or-so Vatican security men had trouble preventing their coats blowing up to reveal their holstered pistols while the Pontiff was administering the Holy Eucharist.
As Pope John Paul II finally bade his farewells at Harare airport, the wind took the white skullcap from his head and whisked it away like a perfectly aerodynamic flying saucer.
In Latin, there is no ”w” so in his Latin homilies Zimbabwe became ”Zimbabua” and Botswana came out as ”Botsunam.”
One of the Pope’s Latin declarations, from Ephesians, chapter 3, verse 8, each time he leaves the Vatican on foreign trips roughly translates as: ”I go to spread the good news to the gentiles of the immeasurable riches of Christ.” Much as we might say ”gone fishing” or ”out for lunch, back at 2.00.”
John Paul prevailed upon Mr Mugabe to suspend the death penalty in Zimbabwe. Hangings were halted for a decade and when they resumed a number of death row inmates had their sentences commuted to life; it was ruled inhumane for them to have been kept on tenterhooks for so long as to whether or not they would ever be summoned to the gallows at dawn. (Scroll down through the Act of Entrustment to read more…)
It was always assumed capital punishment would not be completely abolished in Zimbabwe and could start again at any time after the Pope departed. A little later Mr Mugabe returned to the Catholic fold and took confession regularly. Oh, to be a fly on the wall at those confessions.
Aside from the harrowing uncertainty of the on-or-off hanging moratorium and the dangerous Catholic dogma against the use of condoms when we had just entered the eye of the AIDS storm, a race horse was one comparatively minor casualty of the Pope’s visit.
The two year old thoroughbred had to be put down after an early morning training session at the Borrowdale Park track when it stumbled into a hole dug by contractors hired by the Catholic Church to erect safety railings for the expected 250,000-strong congregation. The horse threw its rider, bolted off the course, skidded and crashed into a tree.This racehorse was no Z$200 nag. It had cost Z$40,000, more than Catholic parishes see in a decade, at the Yearling Sales and had a promising future in Zimbabwean racing.
Though racing and gambling are not strictly a sin, who could sue a pope for damages? The pope heads of one of the world’s richest institutions and the Papal Commission in charge of arranging his trips takes out insurance against accidents and mishaps. The thoroughbred wasn’t covered. Most insurance policies have waivers on claims from natural disasters and “acts of God.”
On this trip the Pope’s supersonic lunch on the Anglo-French Concorde out of Rome’s Fiumicino airport included goose liver pate with truffles, lobster in Sauterne sauce, boiled potatoes, rice creole, a lemon meringue desert and cheeseboard. He declined the 1983 Perrier-Jouet champagne and drank orange juice.
”He said he had a long itinerary ahead of him and wanted to keep a clear head,” one of the stewards said. During the flight the Pope was reading a book in German on animal behaviour and complained to his staff that whenever he came to Africa he never had the chance to see any wildlife, God’s more magnificent creatures, all things great and small. His staff denied he uttered “Holy shit!” when Concorde broke the sound barrier and accelerated to Mach 3, three times the speed of sound.
In Zambia, the Pope warned young people against the evils of marijuana and the coveting of ”flashy clothes”. He himself was wearing a bright scarlet robe embroidered in gold and a gold encrusted mitre. At the Lusaka cathedral he said the scriptures “ask those who are rich to remember that in God’s eyes it is the poor who are blessed.”
There were lots of people in rags at the mass and others who got into their Mercedes and BMW cars at the end left without a thought for the blessed poor.
But miracles can happen. They cut the grass at the Beira golf course for the first time in 14 years so the Pope could hold Mass there on the Mozambican leg of this southern African pilgrimage.
(Above: John Paul’s Entrustment of Zimbabwe to Mary in 1988. A lot of good it did us in subsequent years of violence, political turmoil and economic collapse and hardship.)
.EXTRA. THE PRINCE AND THE PRESIDENT
At John Paul’s funeral in Rome Prince Charles, embarrassingly for him, shook hands, apparently by mistake in the melee, with Mr Mugabe (right, with Herbert Murerwa, centre.)
This is what happened at Kenya President Jomo Kenyatta’s funeral in Nairobi.
From Mutoko Madness, a memoir by Angus Shaw, page 86:
Prince Charles represented his mother at the funeral. From a balcony at the Intercontinental hotel, we watched the guests arriving, shaking hands and embracing each other. Indira Ghandi, Lee Kuan Yew, Julius Nyerere, Shridath Ramphal, Kenneth Kaunda, Agostinho Neto, Samora Machel, they were all there.
Idi Amin came late. He freshened up at the Hilton and wore a pale blue safari suit. Dwarfing his entourage, he walked the half kilometre from the Hilton to the mausoleum, attracting crowds like the Pied Piper of Hamelin. From time to time, he held up his arms like a like a victorious prizefighter, his manic, rolling eyes drinking in the hero worship, he swivelled round to soak up the adulation. People climbed trees in the nearby gardens to catch sight of him.
Bets were taken on whether Charles, the hier to the British throne, would shake Amin’s hand. My 100 shillings said he wouldn’t.
And he didn’t. I won back my stake and more. Amin, the butcher of Kampala and self-styled ‘conqueror of the British Empire,’ moved along the line of seated dignitaries, shaking hands with all of them. The photograph of Charles, dressed in his Royal Navy commander’s white tropical uniform, turning his back on Amin’s outstretched, bear-like hand, made front pages around the world. It was the snub of the year.