Pope Francis met with President Barack Obama at White House Wednesday as his visit in the United States entered its second day.
He gave a short speech in which he talked about tolerance and inclusiveness and climate change, among other things.
Pope Francis highlighted his background -- born in Argentina to parents who emigrated from Italy to South America -- in his opening speech.
"As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families," he said. "I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world."
President Obama warmly welcomed the Pope to the White House and agreed that Americans and people throughout the world have "a sacred obligation to protect our planet".
He was responding to a call by the Pope for the U.S. to take urgent action and help slow the pace of climate change, because the world is at "a critical moment of history."
Francis called on Americans to take urgent steps to prevent environmental ruin and also to address poverty.
"When it comes to the care of our 'common home,' we are living at a critical moment of history," he said in echoing his June encyclical on the environment.
Addressing climate change "can no longer be left to a future generation," he added.
And for all the United States has done and continues to do in addressing world problems, the pope said in conclusion: "God bless America."
In Zimbabwe Catholic faithfuls are watching with interest. Some Catholics in the country want the Pope, as he had intimated that he will be making significant changes to how Catholics can nullify marriage, to consider legalizing customary marriages that are common in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole.
Changes to the marriage institution that the Pope is proposing are radical. Though marriage in the Catholic Church is an indissoluble bond, meaning technically there isn’t such a thing as “Catholic divorce,” Catholics can have their marriage annulled if church leaders deem that the marriage was never valid in the first place.
This announcement by the Pope has given hope to many in Zimbabwe, who felt the annulment process was too long and needed to be made easier. But there are many more who want him to start looking at other types of marriages in Africa especially as he continues to preach his message of tolerance and inclusiveness.
Dr. David Bishau is a lecturer in religious studies with the Zimbabwe Open University (ZOU). He says marriage is treated as a sacrament in the Catholic Church, one that’s difficult to come out of.
He adds the Pope is moving away this and embracing the protestant stance on this issue.
“The net effect of that is that it will call for a revision of their view of marriage as a sacrament because the moment you begin to allow people to get into marriage and out at will, it sort of dilutes the whole concept of marriage as a sacrament,” said Bishau.
Aprose Chademuwiri is a member of the Catholic Church and a teacher in Mhondoro.
He agrees with Bishau that marriage being a sacrament becomes permanent and something that is not easy to erase:
“We are saying the mark that has been put on you is indelible and as you understand the term indelible, it can’t be removed by any human person,” said Chademuwiri.
“Removal of such a mark is impossible even by a person who thinks they have the power.”
Marriage is the 7th sacrament in the Catholic Church with the others being Baptism, Confirmation, holy communion or eucarist, holy orders or ordination and anointment of the sick.
John Chimbambo of Harare is another traditional catholic who refuses to embrace the Pope’s view or intention. He says many Zimbabweans do not agree with him in terms of making it easier for people to annul their marriages, adding it’s not biblical to encourage dissolution of marriage or make it easier.
“There’s no divorce in the Catholic Church; the church should not accept divorce,” he said.
A recent request for the church to recognize customary or traditional marriage by the turned down but Chimbambo says more than 60% of Catholic congregants in Zimbabwe are in such unions.
Bishau agrees, adding the refusal by the catholic church to recognize traditional or customary marriages contradicts the legal dispensation in most African countries, including Zimbabwe, that recognize such unions. He says he sees another push for the church to recognize such unions, especially since Pope Francis has sold himself to the church and the world as a reformist Pope.
Mangava of Harare is a devout Catholic. He says the push for reforms regarding customary marriages should continue, adding people should be allowed to choose the type of marriage they want.
“The two people should be able to choose what type of marriage they want and even the church should accept what the two want,” said Mangava.
Pope Francis is head of the Catholic Church with over 1.2 billion members worldwide; 40 percent of them are in Latin America with Africa seeing the biggest growth in catholic congregations in recent years.
The pontiff, is a Jesuit and first non-European Pope in 1 200 years. He is seen as being more liberal and a reformist calling for church changes in the church, criticizing the cult of big money as well as calling for action to be taken against bishops found to have abused young boys, among other things.