Pope John Paul II forgave the killer and would-be rapist of a nun who died rather than lose her virginity, and beatified the nun Thursday in a Solemn High Mass in Kinshasa.
The ceremony, attended by about 60,000 people, took place on the same ground where nine people were killed in a rush to see the Pope on his last visit to Zaire, in 1980. One of those present Thursday was Zaire's strongman-president, Mobutu Sese Seko, who sat with his official wife to the right of the altar.
To the left of the altar sat the elderly parents of Nengapeta Alphonsine Anuarite, who at 23, as Sister Marie Clementine, chose to die rather than submit to the forcible violation of her vow of chastity. The incident took place in 1964, during the civil war here, when she pleaded with a group of rebels who attacked the convent to kill her but leave her fellow nuns and mother superior alone.
Reportedly among the worshipers but unrecognized was the man convicted of killing her, former Simba rebel Col. Pierre Olombe, now a beggar and devout Roman Catholic. He was condemned to death for the assault and served five years in prison before being pardoned by Mobutu. A number of other rebels involved in the attack on the convent were never tracked down.
Through a local newspaper editor, Olombe had expressed a wish to see the pontiff and ask forgiveness. The editor passed the request along, together with the information that the girl's parents had already forgiven Olombe.
In his homily at the beatification ceremony, the pontiff recalled that Marie Clementine's fellow nuns had reported that her last words before being clubbed to death with rifle butts were the same as those as those attributed to Jesus Christ--"I forgive you for you know not what you do."
Like Christ, she forgave, and like Christ, "she accomplished her sacrifice" the Pope said. Then in a departure from his prepared text he added: "And I myself, in the name of the whole church, I forgive with all my heart."
A Vatican spokesman said the Pope meant his forgiveness to apply to all who were involved in the incident that resulted in the nun's beatification, the first step to sainthood in the Catholic Church.
Although Olombe was not recognized at the Mass, fellow members of Marie Clementine's religious order said he was there, and that earlier he had visited the convent begging for food.
In a meeting with Mobutu later in the day at the president's residence outside Kinshasa, the Pope obliquely chided the leader of a nation notorious for public corruption by calling for "strict rectitude in the exercise of public functions."
"How can we not deplore the contradictions which we see many times between the declarations of generous intention and the reality of self-interested action," John Paul said.
The Pope had been scheduled to address Mobutu and the foreign diplomats based here at the presidential meeting, as he does routinely on visits to other countries. But Mobutu did not invite the diplomats to attend, so the pontiff deleted from his prepared text several remarks he had intended to address to them.
Today the Pope will fly to Lubumbashi, which was Elizabethville in the old Belgian Congo, deep in southeast Zaire near the Zambian border, an area where numerous rebellions have broken out. Following a three-hour open air Mass in the city, he will depart in midafternoon for Nairobi, Kenya.