Having watched a lot of the coverage of the funeral of Pope John Paul II in amongst many of the images, what is really bugging me is that every report focuses in on the ‘diplomatic gaffe’ of shaking hands with President Mugabe. More than that we now have various politicians saying that he should have used the opportunity to refuse to shake his hand.
My annoyance has grown when I found out at what point the handshake took place – not before the service, but at the peace during the service itself – and also when it transpired that it was actually Mugabe who leant over to shake Prince Charles hand, rather than Charles actively shaking Mugabe’s hand. Take a look at the picture, and also note the other handshaking that is going on.
Fundamentally, I think that Charles did the right thing. The liturgical high point of the funeral mass of the Pope is not the right time to make a big political point, the hand was offered, as it was from many other people sat around at that point. It is also worth pointing out the symbolism of the Peace at the point it is placed in the Roman Church. It follows the Eucharistic Prayer, and also the Lord’s Prayer, and is intrinsicaly tied to the line from the Lord’s Prayer:
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
Earlier in the service has been confession and absolution, and in the same way that we ask God to forgive our sins, we are called to forgive others sins. If it had been anywhere else, then perhaps my opinion would be different, but in the context of a Christian service, I think Charles did the Christian thing.
Do I think that Mugabe has had some great conversion? Probably not. Do I think that the attrocities in Zimbabwe will continue? Most definitely. However I think that today was not the place to make a big point, just do as Charles did, shake the mans hand and carry on, no big fuss one way or the other.
What I think is much more important to highlight, is the other handshakes and conversations that took place on the steps today. The presidents of Israel, Iran and Syria who talked to each other, despite the tense relationships that still exist between them. President Bush sat only a few metres from people he described as being an axis of evil. People of many faiths and none come together in a common cause. Maybe it is a vain hope, but maybe through his funeral the Pope has brought all these people together, and maybe through that some good will come.