Up to one million people expected to attend papal inauguration in Vatican City

Attendance of Zimbabwean president Mugabe provokes controversy

People walk through St Peter's Square as workers prepare for the inauguration mass of Pope Francis yesterday in Vatican City. The Inauguration Mass for Pope Francis will take place today, the feast day for St Joseph. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

People walk through St Peter's Square as workers prepare for the inauguration mass of Pope Francis yesterday in Vatican City. The Inauguration Mass for Pope Francis will take place today, the feast day for St Joseph. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Tue, Mar 19, 2013, 06:00

As many as a million people are expected to attend the papal inauguration Mass in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican at 8.30am today. It will be concelebrated by Pope Francis and 180 senior clergy, including the Jesuit and Franciscan superiors general Fr Adolpho Nicholas and Fr José Rodriguez Carballo, respectively. It is expected to have concluded by 10.30am.

Ireland will be represented by President Michael D Higgins and Minister for Finance Michael Noonan.

They will be among a large number of international representatives, including president Cristina Kirchner of Argentina German chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso.

Among Latin American leaders there will be Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto, and Chilean president Sebastian Pinera.

Controversy surrounds the expected attendance of Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou and president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe (89). A Catholic, Mr Mugabe flew into Rome yesterday despite an EU travel ban on him which, however, does not apply to the Vatican state. He visited the Vatican in 2011 for the beatification of late Pope John Paul and in 2005 for John Paul’s funeral.

China meanwhile opposes anything which implies recognition of Taiwan and has strained relations with the Vatican over control of the Catholic Church in that country.

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi made it clear at a press briefing yesterday that it was not Holy See practice to invite people to attend events but rather to inform them such is taking place. “Those who come will be welcomed. No one is refused. No one is invited.”

By lunchtime yesterday it was confirmed that delegations from 132 countries would be attending, including six sovereigns, 31 heads of state, three princes and 11 heads of government.

In what is believed to be a first for such an event, the Russian Orthodox Church will have a representative there, Metropolitan Hilarion. Also there will be the the ecumenical patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, Bartholomew I of Constantinople,, and Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, Coptic patriarch of Alexandria.

Altogether, 33 delegations from other churches will be there, including the Anglican Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, as well as representatives of the Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and other world faiths.