Singing of the hidden God: Blessed John Paul II and the mystical power of words

As today is the Optional Memorial of Blessed John Paul II, I have reproduced my feature from the Easter supplement of the Catholic Herald in 2011, celebrating the literary output of one of the greatest popes in modern times.


Pope John Paul II is lauded for his contributions to theology, human rights, religious freedoms and the renewal of Catholic spirituality. What is often forgotten, is that he was first of all a poet and playwright, his theatrical roots stretching back to his boyhood. He acted in his first play at the age of eight, and this literary and thespian bent gave his papacy its unique flavour. It was his grounding in and love for theatre that no doubt contributed to his reputation of being something of a showman.

Although he was not the first pope to have written poems and plays, John Paul II was unique in that, unlike with his predecessors, his ordination to the priesthood did not put an end to his literary output. He remained a poet and playwright throughout his entire ministry. His final poem, the Roman Triptych, was written in the 23rd year of his papacy and is considered by many to be his spiritual last testament, contemplating the beginning and end of his reign as pope.

Meditating upon the Michelangelo fresco of the Judgement in the Sistine Chapel, John Paul II notes:

so it was in August, and then in October,

of the memorable year of the two Conclaves,

and so it will be again, when the need arises after my death.

Michelangelos vision must then speak to them.

Poetry accompanied John Paul II his entire life. Poetry became his means of expressing his personal feelings and experiences, his relationship to God, to his fellow man and to the world as a whole. It documents his spiritual journey from school pupil to pope, revealing the process of his maturing spirituality and attempts at self-definition. His poetry deals with a whole range of issues from friendships to problems related to his pastoral duties and obligations as bishop – in short, everything that became part of his experience.

John Paul II’s poetic sentiments were formed under the looming shadow of war and invasion. He was influenced by the revival of Polish Romanticism, which held that history had a spiritual core and that the political collapse of Poland over the 18th and 19th centuries had been caused by the deterioration of traditional national virtues.

Echoing a familiar Christian theme, redemptive suffering as a personal spiritual discipline, the great Polish romantics believed that redemptive suffering was also the national destiny. Poland was a Messiah among nations, whose political misfortunes signified a time on Calvary that would redeem the world and give rise to spiritual renewal. It was under the influence of this tradition and following the Nazi occupation in 1939 that John Paul II began writing his first poems and plays. By the end of 1940, he had written a trilogy, David, Job and Jeremiah, which all re-told a biblical story in the context of a key moment in Polish history. These plays were both examinations of the human soul and acts of resistance towards the occupiers, all three having political undertones.

John Paul drew parallels between the fate of Poland, being punished for losing its Christian roots and the punishments of Israelites for breakingtheir covenant with God. In 1939, he wrote in a letter to a friend: “The nation has fallen like Israel because it did not recognise he messianic ideal, its own ideal. Our liberation lies at the gate of Christ”.

In his poetry of the same era, we see the emerging figure of a man of great prayer and devotion. Over This, Your White Grave is arguably one of his most touching poems, written at the age of 19 and dealing with the premature death of his mother, in which his monologue displaying his feelings of longing, sorrow and melancholy is transformed into a simple prayer for his mother which expresses his gratitude for love. “O Mother, extinguished love… give her eternal peace.”The poem evokes the image of the young poet kneeling in prayer at his mother’s grave, giving thanks for her life and reconciled with the prospect of death. The remainder of his poetry written in the war years is similarly contemplative, displaying a mysticism and a turning inwards to God.

John Paul II responded to the horror surrounding him with a sense of detachment, but that is not to say that he was unaffected by it. In one of the poems from his later period he draws upon the time that he was forced to work as a manual labourer in a quarry. But his early poetry shows that at a time when it must have seemed like the apocalypse was nigh – his beloved father died, his friends were taken to concentration camps and he was risking his life by remaining a member of an underground theatre company –his only refuge in the Lord.

His later poetry, becomes increasingly ambitious in terms of language, further blurring the boundaries between thought and prayer.

Perhaps one of John Paul II’s greatest achievements as a playwright was having one of his plays, The Jeweller’s Shop, written in 1960, under the pseudonym of Andrzej Jawien, turned into a Hollywood movie, starring Burt Lancaster and Olivia Hussey. The story focuses upon the contrast of human relationships, love, marriage and family, encapsulating John Paul’s favourite theme, namely that love is difficult but one must continue to hope as our futures depend upon it. The play explores the concepts that would be later worked out more fully in his famous cycle of teachings that would become the Theology of the Body.

Above all, in his poetry and plays John Paul II showed an awareness of the mystical power of words. The idea of the “living word” both on stage and in poetry could transform reality by summoning the audience to moral action. He saw a correlation between the poetic and theatrical word and the Divine Word by which God created the universe and by which bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Time and time again his work returned to the theme of the Eucharist, in the transformation of the bread and wine he saw the paradox of God continually both hiding and revealing himself.

“The Shores of Silence”, the first part of the poem, The Song of the Hidden God, loses none of its lyrical qualities in translation:

Learn from me, my dear ones, how to hide,

for where I am hidden I abide…

there is a Beauty more real

concealed in the living blood.

To use John Paul II’s own words, in a country wracked by occupation and war, his poetry really did sing of the hidden God, in a regime that recognised that the Catholic Church was the historic custodian of Polish national culture and identity and thus sought to destroy it.

In the New Evangelisation of the world called for by John Paul II, poets and playwrights, along with other artists had an important role to play. “Humanity in every age – and even today – looks to works of art to shed light upon its path and its destiny,” he once wrote. Artists were invited to follow his example and use their God-given gifts for the purposes of spiritual renewal, using their artistic quest for beauty, good and truth to transcend the physical and lead them back to their divine origins.

In his final poem, the Pope re-iterated his concept of the living word: that everything around us should proclaim God’s love, a love that was made as a promise before the dawn of time:

the sign of the Covenant

which the Eternal Word made with you

even before the world was created.

It is no surprise that his life ended with the most passionate and inspirational performance of all. He was no longer able to use the power of language but his death conveyed the drama of suffering and the mystery of love, beyond the power of the word to the Word itself.

Catholics and Family Size

Francis Philips made some excellent points in her Catholic Herald blogpost this week, asking whether the Church has succumbed to an anti-family culture and reminding Catholics that they should not feel the need to limit their family size.

She quotes one Christopher Gawley who posits that while the Church abhors the small-family contraceptive mentality, it does not present the true message of Humane Vitae, namely the obligation of married couples to have children and not to limit their family size. According to Gawley, this is because the Church does not teach NFP properly, citing it as the natural alternative to artificial contraception and thus couples fall into the contraceptive mindset, using NFP as a form of contraception in order to avoid pregnancy.

That’s certainly a criticism that has cropped up a lot in my combox over the years, with non-Catholics claiming that NFP is merely semantics or a form of sophistry, NFP it is claimed, is just another form of contraception. To be fair, one cannot blame the non-catechised for taking this view, it can be confusing, especially considering that NFP is even described as a form of contraception by the NHS. We Catholics can also play into this perspective, when trying to persuade others of the efficacy and morality of NFP compared to other forms of contraception. There can be little doubt, that religious principles aside, there are compelling reasons for a couple to use NFP, which is entirely natural, leaves no ecological footprint and does much to enhance the relationship between husband and wife on both a physical, psychological and for Catholics, spiritual level.

Which is why we should probably attempt a Catholic boycott of the phrase and instead plump for something along the lines of NFA, Natural Fertility Awareness which is the essence behind NFP for Catholics. It’s not simply about planning one’s family in a utilitarian fashion, but a couple together monitoring a woman’s fertility and every month making prayerful decisions as to the best course of action.

I do not agree that the Church is implicitly buying into the contraceptive mentality by the way it teaches and presents NFP, because let’s be honest here, sadly many practicing Catholics are using contraception and actually see no problem with this, such as for example, the former editor of the Catholic Herald, Cristina Odone. The problem is not, in my experience, that the Church is not teaching NFP or Humanae Vitae correctly, the problem is that it isn’t really being taught at all. Perhaps I’m being unfair, but I think I’ve heard it alluded to once during a homily over the past five years. I once spoke at a neighbouring parish on the theology of NFP, together with a practitioner who did the mechanics and once I’d got over the embarrassment of telling a group of engaged and co-habiting couples that they ought to consider chastity, what was clear was that none of them had ever really considered the doctrine on contraception, let alone the reasons behind it or even putting it into practice.

We are really fooling ourselves if we believe that the reason that Catholics are having small families is because they are misusing NFP. those Catholics who do use it, are the ones who fully understand it and tend to have larger families anyway. In the absence of stats, it’s impossible to make generalisations, but the priority should not be Catholics with say two or three children, who may be using NFP with a contraceptive mentality.

The expert moral theologian in this area, Janet Smith, says that often, the graveness of the valid reasons for avoiding pregnancy can be overstated. I would tend to agree, because what constitutes ‘grave and serious’ reasons is entirely subjective and depends upon the individual couple. While childbearing shouldn’t be postponed for trivial social reasons such as planning a holiday for example, it is totally valid for a woman who has given birth in the last year, for example, to use NFP/NFA to space out her children and give her body adequate time to recover before the next pregnancy. That may not come under the life-threatening implications of ‘grave’ but so long as she doesn’t postpone indefinitely and the decision is taken carefully and prayerfully, it isn’t one that should attract censure. Janet Smith suggests that ‘just’ reasons would be a more suitable phrase.

Humane Vitae admittedly uses the terms ‘serious’ and ‘grave’, as follows:

“If we look further to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who, guided by prudent consideration and generosity, elect to accept many children. Those are also to be considered responsible, who, for serious reasons [seriis causis] and with due respect for moral precepts, decide not to have another child either for a definite or an indefinite amount of time.” (HV10)

Certainly, there may be just reasons [justae causae] for spacing offspring; these may be based on the physical or psychological condition of the spouses, or may be based on external factors.” Further on it states the spouses may have worthy and weighty justifications (argumenta . . . honesta et gravia); defensible reasons (probabiles rationes); and just reasons (iustae rationes) for limiting their family size.” (HV16)

So in planning family size, a couple needs to think about ALL their commitments, to each other, to their existing children, to other family members who may be dependents, such as an elderly parent, basically, the decision has to be defensible, and not selfish, but directed towards a good beyond their own comfort. There are a multitude of good reasons why a couple may decide to use NFP and their decision to do so should be between themselves, taking into account Church teaching on the matter, based on prayerful discernment. The external factors referred to in HV16, obviously refers to compelling financial and social reasons, and can in themselves be a defensible reason, i.e it does not need to be a matter of life and death.

Gaudium et Spes 50 has a passage which is also helpful in discerning what constitutes a just decision.

“takes into consideration their own good and the good of their children already born or yet to come, an ability to read the signs of the times and of their own situation on the material and spiritual level, and finally, an estimation of the good of the family, of society, and of the Church.”

On the matter of how many children one should have, John Paul II had something interesting to say:

“The family is an institution created by procreation within the framework of marriage. It is a natural community, directly dependent on the parents for its existence and functioning. The parents create the family as a complement to and extension of their love. To create a family means to create a community, since the family is a social unit or else it is not a family. To be a community it must have a certain size. This is most obvious in the context of education. For the family is an educational institution within the framework of which the personality of a new human being is formed. If it is to be correctly formed it is very important that this human being should not be alone, but surrounded by a natural community. We are sometimes told that it is easier to bring up several children together than an only child, and also that two children are not a community – they are two only children. It is the role of the parents to direct their children’s upbringing, but under their direction the children educate themselves because they develop within the framework of a community of children, a collective of siblings.”

So ideally, a family should constitute more than two children.

It seems to me that getting too hung up on the grave and serious nature of reasons for avoiding childbirth, ignores the actual teaching of Humane Vitae. I also think that to do so, encourages us to fall into the trap of judging others on the basis of their family size. There’s many a time that I look at some of these marvellous Catholic families with 6 or more children wistfully and wish I’d met my husband when in my twenties so we could have got going a lot earlier and had plenty more, but such is life. We’ve not been doing too badly in the reproductive stakes, to put it mildly.

But we shouldn’t be too keen to judge a family’s Catholicity on the basis of family size. A family may only have one or two children for reasons that are unknown to the outsider and could well be a source of pain for them. A small Catholic family is not a scandalous situation and neither should we hector those who prayerfully chose to employ NFP to achieve or avoid pregnancy, the two being different sides of the same coin.

Ultimately if a faithful Catholic couple is using NFP then they are still accepting and participating in God’s plan for creation. NFP/NFA accepts that no method of pregnancy avoidance, bar total abstinence is 100%. It is hugely unlikely that such a couple would then opt for abortion or reject an unplanned pregnancy. Practicing NFP constantly reminds one that this is always a possibility which is why NFP encourages spouses to care for and take responsibility for each other.

We should not berate those who use it in good conscience, procreation is one of the missions of marriage but not the sole mission, there are other ways of building the kingdom, the church does not treat children as a moral good to be pursued at the expense of all other moral goods. Gaudium et Spes 50 suggests that having a large family would be the generous thing to do, but also states that it is up to couples to decide.

The subject of children and family size is a fraught one to which we must be sensitive. I’ve been hurt by thoughtless comments from well-meaning Catholics, concerning the sex of my children, or suggestions that I ought to be trying for more to set a good example, when in fact we had very sound reasons to be thinking about avoiding. Tip, the last thing one should say to a woman with a newborn baby girl staggering into Church following her third cesarian is “oh what a pity, when are you going to try again”?!

Using NFP takes courage in this day and age, where most have us have been conditioned into wanting to and believing that we can control every aspect of our lives, including childbearing. NFP is liberating and empowering it paradoxically puts a woman in charge of her own fertility (far more so than artificial methods of contraception) but with that liberation comes a submission to God’s will. One innately understands that ‘accidents’ can happen and when they do, you are in a far better position to be able to make the heroic sacrifice required.

There is still so much work to be done in terms of catechesis and educating the faithful on this matter, far better to evangelise on the spiritual goods and moral imperatives of NFP as opposed to be hammering home the message that Catholics should expect to have as many children as humanly possible, continuing to reproduce like rabbits until their uterus falls out.

Yes, generosity is expected and required and this is something that we should be passing onto our children by word and example. But having a large family is not the only way in which one can exercise generosity and perhaps it’s a case of carrot and stick. Once the faithful have been convinced of the good of NFP, constant reminders of the grave and serious reasons to avoid may well become superfluous. Once you’ve understood the teaching in its entirety, not simply the logistics or mechanics, then the rest follows on holistically.

But berating those for using NFP to avoid in good conscience, or discouraging discussion of using NFP to plan a family responsibly, is not the way to go, particularly for those encountering these concepts for the first time, which sadly seems to be a not insignificant proportion of the faithful.


Upon reflection it occurred to me that Christopher Gawley, the writer referred to is American, where it is normal pastoral practice for couples to receive NFP instruction as part of their marriage preparation. Perhaps Gawley is justified in critiquing the way this is taught if it only focuses upon the method itself as opposed to the underlying theology. This isn’t the problem in the UK where qualified NFP practitioners are in short supply and NFP is barely mentioned in many parishes or schools.

I still feel that faithful couples practicing NFP should be treated in good faith. It is highly likely that an orthodox couple who are using NFP to avoid pregnancy or space their children will be sufficiently motivated and well informed to understand their obligations in the light of Church teaching.

Beyond Benedict

papal seal

I think that I’m in agreement with Fr Ray’s conceit that our outgoing Pope has left us a legacy of concepts, as follows:

  • the idea that there is a correct and incorrect interpretation of Vatican II,

  • he has gone along way to reconciling the Church’s present to its past, Summorum Pontificum is an important part of this

  • he has gone along to dismantling the political notions of left and right, liberal and conservative (the media hasn’t caught on to this yet) and restoring the notion of Catholic orthodoxy.

  • he has re-presented the idea that Pope is the Bishop of Rome – certainly first amongst equals – (I’ll explore this at a later stage but I think this important).

  • that “Unity” in terms of ecumenism is about looking to those who share (substantially) the catholic faith – hence Ordinariates and looking towards the Orthodox

It’s certainly true that Joseph Ratzinger has done much to reinforce the concept that biblical Christianity does not fit neatly into the left/right praxis of Western democracy, which is why whilst few media commentators have been ignorant enough to label him as a right-wing or Republican type, neither have they picked up on many of his speeches which have a distinctly left-wing bent. This speech on selfish economic models and the value of the family farm was never widely disseminated for example, and neither was his concept of the ecology of mankind, reclaiming territory from the Greens, ever explored nor were his environmentally friendly credentials ever acknowledged or welcomed by the Green party, only being belatedly dredged up by the Guardian who were trying to find something positive to say to balance out their one-sided coverage of the papal resignation which would fit in with their agenda. It begs the question as to when the watermelons are going to cotton on to the environmental effects of their contraceptive comfort blanket.

But Fr Ray, is correct in his identification that Benedict, like his predecessor, has left us a variety of concepts which now need practical application. In both John Paul II and Benedict XVI we have had two towering intellectual giants, two great teaching popes who were both members and architects of the Second Vatican Council, who both understood what the reforms were supposed to achieve, watched their misapplication with dismay and who both unpicked, communicated and attempted to sow the seeds of the genuine spirit and renewal of the church that Vatican II was supposed to engender. Both John Paul II and Benedict left behind great gifts to the church in terms of their theological and academic writings – notably John Paul II’s theology of the body, which will continue to be studied and relevant for many generations to come, and Joseph Ratzinger’s vast body of literary contributions, apostolic letters and speeches out of which it is difficult to chose any of being of most merit, so consistently high is the quality, but my money is on Deus Caritus Est and his biographies of Jesus, which was groundbreaking in that a Pope made complex theological concepts and the historicity of the gospels accessible to the general public for the first time in modern history.

So what next? Is the Pope one of the last intellectuals and is this really such a bad thing? It’s fair to say that whoever is chosen, they are hardly going to be a dullard in the cerebral stakes, given that canon law proscribes that all bishops must either have a doctorate or a licentiate (i.e. a lesser degree than a doctorate but a qualification that enables them to teach in seminaries). The unfortunately titled piece on Catholic Light, (Does the Pope have an S.T.D) gives a comprehensive summary of cardinals’ degrees.

But all Catholics need to be wary of the cult of the intellect, which can lead us astray in terms of admiring people or wishing to elevate them on the basis of intellect alone. Whilst it is vital that those in positions of leadership must have a thorough formation, I don’t think we can discount candidates on the basis that they don’t possess the extraordinary intellectual abilities and gifts of the previous two popes, which were unique and rare gifts. How many people can really count themselves in the same intellectual league as Karol Wojtyla or Joseph Ratzinger? St Peter wasn’t to be found earnestly studying the laws in minute detail in the synagogue though I think we can safely assume that he knew them well. Being an intellectual powerhouse is no guarantee of spiritual greatness or a burning and passionate desire to spread the good news and safely lead the flock. Being in possession of a great intellect must be tempered with a corresponding humility otherwise the gift takes on a destructive nature. Give me the humble priest who tends to the sick, who feeds the hungry and homeless, comforts the distressed, fights for the oppressed and walks with the outcast as opposed to the remote bookish intellect any day. Some of the most inspirational Catholics in my daily life are not those with the highfaluting terminology, but those who witness simply through their daily lives and everyday words of wisdom and encouragement.

We have been incredibly fortunate in that we’ve had two popes who have bequeathed us so much in terms of intellectual wisdom and insight, my feeling is that it’s now time to pause, take stock, we have to digest and now apply the messages and teachings of our two previous Popes. I think we need some intellectual breathing space, in which we can begin to absorb and apply what we have learnt.

The new pope, whoever it might be, needs to hopefully have something of the showmanship of Karol Wojtyla intermingled with the thoughtfulness and radicalism of Pope Benedict XVI. He must continue to reform the Vatican in terms of how it communicates with the outside world, the Pope’s twitter account has been an excellent start as has the engagement with Catholic bloggers and the redesign of the Vatican portal but these are cosmetic changes, there needs to be a concerted attempt to ensure that it uses the new tools at its disposal for the New Evangelisation. The new pontiff must also possess the courage and vision to be able to give the Curia a red-slippered kick up the backside, it would appear that it needs root and branch reform to bring its admin processes into the twenty-first century and it’s staff need to be brought into line – there should be no time for petty factionalisms and jealousy. Though whoever is appointed will undoubtedly possess intellect, it will not need to be the defining quality of this new papacy. We need, for want of a better word, an applicator and enforcer, someone who will widely disseminate, reinforce and apply the work of the past pontificates.

It’s a shame that due to the nature of global politics that we are unlikely to see Cardinal Dolan (although never say never, the frontrunners in a conclave almost never emerge as the successor), the world is not ready for an American pope and it is unlikely that we will see one for as long as the USA remains as a (albeit declining) global superpower – it would not be good to have a Vatican that Americans could claim as being theirs. Besides which America needs Cardinal Dolan, though no-one will be more delighted than me if I am proven wrong in a few weeks time and I am in sympathy with Fr Lucie-Smith, nationality should not disbar an otherwise ideal candidate. I’m nurturing outrageous secret fantasies, given that the Pope doesn’t technically need to be from among the college of Cardinals, about how wonderful it would be if the Holy Spirit were to whisper the Word on Fire amongst the cardinals in the conclave. Or what if our new Bishop of Portsmouth or Shrewsbury were to have the fastest promotion in ecclesial history?!

At this moment in time, regardless of whether or not he is our last pope (the evidence would indicate otherwise), the successor of Peter does undoubtedly need to feed his flock during a period of transition and flux, which is seeing an end to a society based upon Christian values and ideals. Now is a time to put the words and the intellect of others into action.

Question for Cardinal Burke

OK, I will shortly update re the baby and a general post-natal update, but firstly huge thanks to Anna Arco and the team from the Catholic Herald for their wonderful live blog and streaming from the vigil Mass and today’s beatification of John Paul II in Rome. Due to a hospital appointment I couldn’t watch most of the service, we’re going to catch it later on EWTN, however it was great to be able to catch up with what was happening via the wonders of the smartphone.

One thing that has perturbed me and perhaps many others was the presence of Robert Mugabe at the ceremony. It’s a bit of a tricky one this. According to the Vatican spokesman, Fr Lombardi, no personal invitation was issued to Mr Mugabe, representatives from all heads of states were invited as is the normal custom. America chose to send an ambassador, however there was nothing to stop Barak Obama from attending if he wished.

Whilst I am not going to defend the presence of Mr Mugabe at the ceremony, his presence there was rather sickening and does not send out the right message, I understand that this perhaps was not as clear cut as it might seem. The Vatican, as an independent state maintains diplomatic relations with all countries and prefers to keep lines of communication open. The problem, as far as I can see it, with refusing to invite anyone from Zimbabwe is that this could result in a backlash from Mugabe’s men, resulting in attacks and persecution of the Catholic community. Furthermore it could also have meant that the Catholic Church were hampered in their various aid activities inside the country.

However it is more than a little puzzling that a welcome is extended to a man, who whilst speaking to a group of Christian evangelicals on Thursday, denounced the Catholic bishops as “puppets and liars”. Addressing members of the Zion Christian Church in Mbungo, he said:  “I am confused by my own Catholic bishops, they must learn from you (ZCC leaders). Often Catholic bishops expose that they are not their own men; they are mere puppets of Western Countries. I grew up in a Catholic Church but now I am totally frustrated by how these so called men of God who lie. All Catholic bishops are liars, they demonise my party every day.” 

At least the Bishops cannot be accused of implicitly supporting Mugabe or his murderous regime if they provoke such outbursts. Less puzzling is Mugabe’s hypocrisy in attending the ceremony and using it as an excuse to travel out of the country. Whilst I totally understand the Vatican’s dilemma, Mr Mugabe’s presence casts an unnecessary shadow over today’s wonderful events and has to go down as yet another PR fail from the Vatican’s communications department who once again are demonstrating that they are reactive rather than proactive. Surely the situation could have been anticipated and prevented in advance? Unsurprisingly the world’s press has picked up on this story and mistakenly spun Mugabe’s presence as being due to a personal invitation. I trust that PR issues such as these will be tactfully and respectfully raised in tomorrow’s Vatican blognic.

What confuses me, is why given the nature of the crimes that Robert Mugabe has been implicated in, no-one has clarifed his excommunication? Though no canon lawyer, surely Mugabe’s statement re the Bishops  on Thursday would qualify him for automatic excommunication constituting an offence under cannon 1364, which stipulates “An apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic” as being a cause for automatic excommunication.

I’d be interested to see whether or not any  cannon lawyers might agree with me on this? Mugabe has blood on his hands;  though we can judge whether or not he appears to show any sign of remorse or repentance for the wicked acts carried out under his regime, he certainly seems to have incited and supported acts of unimaginable cruelty and violence, we cannot sit in judgement upon his soul or know whether or not, as the good Catholic he professes to be, he has taken these to confession. As a Catholic, catechised by the Jesuit order, we can however guess that unless his instruction was particularly poor, he knows full well that he violates the precepts of the Catechism and that his actions are lacking in Christian charity.

If the Vatican were to clarify his excommunication, this would not disbar him from attending the ceremony, but it would however send a strong message that unless and until he repents, he is unable to receive any of the sacraments of the Church and thus they cannot be accused of according him a welcome, other than respecting the office which he represents. If Mugabe were publicly refused communion it would send a very strong message and one can but hope that it might also act as the medicinal remedy for which excommunication is intended. Not merely to punish, but that the pain of being separated from Christ in the Eucharist may bring the lost sheep back into the fold.