THE INAUGURAL MASS for Pope Francis is due to be held in St Peter’s Square in Rome today, with leaders from all over the world travelling to Italy to join the celebrations.
The leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics will be formally enthroned, with the city authorities preparing for an unflux of up to a million people to Rome.
Representing Ireland at the inaugural mass will be President Michael D Higgins and Finance Minister Michael Noonan.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault are among European leaders set to attend, along with EU President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe flew into Rome on yesterday, sidestepping a travel ban that applies to the EU but not to the sovereign Vatican City state.
The new pope already faces a diplomatic minefield with the planned attendance of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, which sparked an angry response from Beijing.
China, which bitterly opposes any steps that imply recognition of Taiwan by other countries, has also long had strained relations with the Vatican in a dispute about authority over Catholics in the country.
Yesterday the new pope also has his first meeting with a head of state, receiving Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner who had testy relations with the first pontiff over gay marriage and abortion laws.
As expected, Francis is attracting a heavyweight turnout from Latin America, home to two in five of the world’s Catholics, although he has urged his compatriots to save their money and make donations to the poor instead of travelling.
US Vice President Joe Biden, also a practising Catholic, arrived late Sunday to represent Washington at the event precipitated by the shock resignation of Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI.
The inaugural mass is due to begin at 9.30am today and afterwards Pope Francis will receive the greetings of heads of official delegations and later will return to the Domus Sancthae Marthae for lunch.
- Additional reporting from AFP.