HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe says he wants Pope Francis to visit Africa because he is "a man of God who will be praying for all of us, praying for the sinful world to repent."
Mugabe attended the Pope's inaugural mass on Tuesday despite a ban on him travelling to most European countries to protest his human rights record and alleged vote rigging in violent elections. Vatican City is not affected by the ban. Vatican officials said no formal invitations were sent out and representatives of all world governments were welcome to come to the Pope's installation.
Speaking to journalists in Italy, Mugabe urged them to go to church, lead a morally-guided life, avoid heavy drinking and write well without putting in "a twist like all journalists do for propaganda," the Zimbabwe Herald newspaper, a Mugabe mouthpiece, reported Wednesday.
The newspaper said Mugabe, 89, met with Pope Francis and congratulated him on his election by the conclave of Roman Catholic cardinals. "We hope he will take us, all his children, on the same basis of equality . that we are all, in the eyes of God, equal," Mugabe said.
Pope John Paul II visited Zimbabwe on an African pilgrimage in 1988. At his request Mugabe suspended criminal executions but hangings resumed nearly a decade later. Mugabe, who led the nation to independence from colonial-era rule in 1980, was forced into a shaky, acrimonious and violence-troubled coalition with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader, after disputed elections in 2008.
Zimbabweans overwhelmingly voted last week for a new constitution to strengthen human rights and curb authoritarian presidential powers. The new constitution sets a path toward fresh elections to end the coalition.
Mugabe said he expected the date for those elections to be announced by the end of March, The Herald reported. The presidential and legislative elections are expected around July. Mugabe told reporters to work harder to present truthful reports.
"Sometimes one gets offended when what one says has not been understood. We don't usually rush to correct people," said Mugabe, whose ZANU-PF party has enforced sweeping media laws since 2003. Scores of independent journalists have been assaulted and arrested since then.
Mugabe said Christian commandments to love one another did not mean promiscuity. He told reporters covering the Pope's inauguration: "If you have not been going to church, you start going. If you have been drunkards, stop drinking. If you have been guilty of fornication, stop it," The Herald said.