President Robert Mugabe left Harare Wednesday for the funeral of Pope John Paul. The president and senior members of his party and government are banned from entering the European Union for alleged human rights abuses.
Officials at the Holy See and Italian Embassies and the EU offices in Harare were not available for comment.
Mr. Mugabe's trip to the Vatican drew fire from one of his most fearless critics, Catholic Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo. The archbishop told VOA that, though Mr. Mugabe goes to church and receives communion, "to me the man is just a murderer and evil." He added that he cannot understand how Mr. Mugabe reconciles his Christianity and the evil things he is doing to Zimbabweans.
Archbishop Pius Ncube said Mr. Mugabe had probably taken advantage of the Italian government's obligations under its treaties with the Vatican to circumvent the travel ban.
In a South African Broadcasting Corporation interview earlier this week, the Jesuit-educated Mr. Mugabe said he is not a devout Catholic but just a layperson who goes to church.
He expressed his admiration for the late pontiff and said he hoped that what he tried to teach the world would be heeded by what he called "the bullies of this world" who attack small nations such as Iraq.
"This is the fear of small nations like our own, we want to be in peace," he said.