Pope Francis generated controversy on his first week of reign as head of the 1.2-billion strong Roman Catholic Church when he greeted and shook the hand of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday after his inaugural mass.
Reuters Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace react after releasing balloons to celebrate his 89th birthday at Chipadze stadium in Bindura, about 90km (56 miles) north of the capital Harare, March 2, 2013
Mr Mugabe, who came to Vatican with wife Grace, managed to slip into the Holy See despite a European Union travel ban. The 89-year-old president is a Roman Catholic and studied at a Jesuit school.
While the prohibition on entering the EU has been made since 2002 over allegations that Mr Mugabe was involved in vote rigging and human rights abuses, Vatican is not a member of a EU although he would have to enter via Italy which is an EU state.
What was ironic is that during the inaugural mass, Mr Mugabe was even seated beside EU officials such as European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Parliament President Martin Schultz.
It was not Mr Mugabe's first visit to Vatican but his fourth since the travel ban was made. He attended the beatification rite for Pope John Paul in 2012, the UN Food Summit in 2008 and Pope John Paul II's funeral in 2005 when he even shook hands with Britain's Prince Charles.
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell, who twice tried to make a citizen's arrest on Mr Mugabe over torture charges, was allegedly beaten unconscious by the president's bodyguards in 2001, said Mr Mugabe should have not been invited for the event.
"His regime has abused the Christian values of love and compassion. It stands accused of kidnapping, detention without trial, torture, rape and murder . . . President Mugabe belongs in the dock at the International Criminal Court, not in the Vatican being feted by the Pope."
However, Vatican officials clarified that it did not issue formal invitations to heads of states for the inaugural mass but welcome all national government representatives for the rite.
Ironically, Mr Mugabe told Italian media to go to church, lead a moral life, avoid heavy drinking and write without twisting their stories for propaganda, the Zimbabwe Herald quoted the African president.
Mr Mugabe said he hoped Pope Francis will visit Africa and that the pontiff "will take us, all his children, on the same basis of equality that we are all, in the eyes of God, equal."
When Pope John Paul II visited Zimbabwe in 1988, he requested Mr Mugabe to suspend criminal executions which the president complied with for almost 10 years, but he eventually restored hangings.
The MDC-T SA also condemned Mr Mugabe's attendance in the inaugural mass. The group said in a statement, "It is worth remembering that the celebrations in Rome today are as a result of an election. The Pope after all is an elected official. Whilst he is being high and mighty in Rome, Mugabe must ask around whether any people died in the election . . . He might was well discover that there was white smoke to signal the happy occasion at the end of the election and not blood on the streets."
Unlike other governments, Vatican is not into political correctness. The pope's first visitor, in fact, was a former nemesis - Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner, and the Holy See also welcomed the delegation from Taiwan despite calls by China for the Church to cut ties with the former.
These policies appear to reflect Jesus' remarks when people wanted to stone an adulterous woman, and he said, "Let him who has no sin cast the first stone."
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace react after releasing balloons to celebrate his 89th birthday at Chipadze stadium in Bindura, about 90km (56 miles) north of the capital Harare, March 2, 2013