Zambian archbishop celebrates first Mass since marriage scandal

CASAMARI, Italy - A Zambian archbishop who horrified the Catholic Church by getting married only to reject the union and then return to the fold celebrated his first public Mass since the scandal, although tight Vatican security ensured that his warmly supportive followers kept their distance Thursday.

Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo was married last year to a South Korean acupuncturist in a group ceremony led by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. He subsequently rejected the marriage on an appeal from Pope John Paul II, and then vanished from public view for a spiritual retreat to make peace with the Church.

Milingo's long-awaited reappearance after a year out of view delighted some 800 faithful gathered beneath the vaulted stone ceilings of an 11th-century abbey in Casamari, a town 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) southeast of Rome.

Milingo did not speak directly about the scandal, but did stress the importance of obedience and forgiveness and said he bore no grudges.

"Within faith, there is obedience. Not just belief, obedience," he said. "I don't have enemies, I don't hate anyone. This brings me much joy."

"I am so happy to love all of you," he said during his homily. "It gives me so much joy. I always know I can walk in this world with my head up."

"I want no one to go home as you were when you came here," he said. "I hope you will go home knowing you have a new friend — who is Milingo."

Security guards kept an eye on the crowd, and a white rope ran down the edge of the pews to prevent people from approaching Milingo. During communion, Milingo sat at one side as priests walked down the aisle to hand out the wafers.

The Rev. Rocco Aloisi, a friend of Milingo for several years, complained about the tight security. At the end of the Mass, Milingo approached him and took his hands, but they had no time to talk.

"Many things are strange," the priest said. "When will we be able to really speak one-on-one with him? I don't know."

The woman Milingo married, Maria Sung, has complained bitterly that the Vatican was keeping the archbishop from her against his will. However, Milingo has said that his spiritual retreat in Argentina was voluntary.

Long before his marriage, Milingo caused controversy in the Church by conducting religious ceremonies that troubled some Vatican officials.

He was summoned to Rome in 1983 after resigning from his post as archbishop of Lusaka, Zambia, for performing faith healing and exorcisms. Large crowds of people then flocked to Rome seeking cures from Milingo, and the Vatican removed him from his post there.

Now that Milingo is back, Church officials say he will conduct only traditional ceremonies, with no more faith-healing prayers during Mass or public exorcisms. During Thursday's ceremony, he led a prayer for the healing of tumors, rheumatism and a host of other ailments, but he did so before the Mass began.

Many among Thursday's congregation came because of Milingo's reputation.

Franca Roma, a 51-year-old cook, said the archbishop had cured her husband's heart disease.

"I just can't explain how he (the husband) is normal," she said. "The cardiologist told me he couldn't understand either how in such a short time he got better"

Another follower, Franco Mazzoli, 48, said that perhaps Milingo's great charisma had a psychological effect on healing.

"If someone can influence people so positively they have to be respected," he said.

Before Thursday, Milingo had not appeared in public following the scandal, although he spoke via TV linkup on a late-night Italian talk show in September.

He has now been set up in at a new home in Zagarolo, 30 kilometers (20 miles) southeast of Rome. He will go to Zambia in December for several weeks, to reconcile with family, followers and Church members there.

A top Vatican official, Monsignor Tarcisio Bertone, told Vatican Radio last week that Milingo had agreed to take a quiet ministry away from too much publicity.