The insults towards the Pontiff, who does not know it because he never imagined that he would actually become president of his country, have reached a level never seen before. “Representative of evil on Earth”, “son of a bitch who preaches communism”, “evil bastard”. These are just three examples of the belligerence with which Javier Milei, the new president of Argentina, long displayed towards Pope Francis before arriving at the Casa Rosada. This Monday, at nine o’clock in the morning, Milei, today supreme leader of Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s native country, presented himself at the Vatican and met, in a different tone and for the first time, the Pontiff for an hour: a time reserved for the meetings in which the Pope is most interested. In fact, he never devoted so much space to his meetings with the predecessors of the current president Cristina Fernández Kirchner, Mauricio Macri or Alberto Fernández.
Francisco wanted at the time to remove the insults and assured that these are things that are said during an electoral campaign. In political matters, he is pragmatic and oriented towards dialogue. And even more so if they refer to their homeland. In fact, one of the keys to the visit was the invitation that Milei planned to extend to Francisco to visit Argentina soon. The Pope has always left this possibility on the fringes of his priorities, but recently his interest has increased. The press release published by the Vatican, however, gives no clue on this subject. “During the cordial conversations at the Secretariat of State, satisfaction was expressed for the good relations between the Holy See and the Argentine Republic and the desire to strengthen them even further. Then they focused on the new government’s program to deal with the economic crisis. As the conversation continued, several international issues were discussed, including current conflicts and the commitment to peace between nations.
Milei went to see Francisco accompanied by his sister and Secretary General of the Presidency, Karina Milei; Chancellor Dinana Mondino; the Ministers of the Interior and Human Capital, respectively Guillermo Francos and Sandra Pettovello; Rabbi Axel Wahnish and Secretary of Worship, Francisco Sánchez. The Argentine president arrived a little hastily at the meeting. The reason, basically, is that he ordered the official car he was traveling in to stop while it was traveling along the Via della Conciliazione to take photos with Argentine pilgrims. He spent the necessary time with the tourists, who took a group portrait, then continued his way to enter through the Santa Anna gate to the courtyard of San Damaso, where the protocol officials of the Holy See were waiting for him .
As planned, Francis received him at the Apostolic Palace in a closed audience. On the table, as the president had argued, was, among other issues, the pope’s possible trip to his native country, where he has not returned since his election at the 2013 conclave.
The Argentine president gave the Pope a file containing a copy of the handwritten letter from Chancellor José María Gutiérrez to Juan Bautista Alberdi accrediting him as representative to Europe in 1854; a commemorative postcard of Mama Antula (canonized on Sunday) and what probably aroused the most interest in Francis given his love for sweets: dulce de leche alfajores and lemon cookies “from the favorite brand of the Sovereign Pontiff” , underlined Milei’s spokesperson. The Argentine president then offered an interview on one of the Mediaset channels where he explained his change of position with the Pope. “The point is this: things are evolving, things are understood, and one of the things I have understood lately is that the Pope is the most important person in Argentina, he is the leader Catholics in the world. And as a result, I had to reconsider certain positions, and from that moment on we began to build a positive bond.
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The Argentine president arrived in Rome from Israel accompanied by his entourage last Friday. The president also met the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella and, early in the afternoon and for more than 60 minutes, the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni. Both share certain ideological affinities, but are certainly quite distant in terms of the role and degree of intervention of the State. Despite this, Meloni always had kind words for the Argentine president and was quick to congratulate him after his victory. The Italian Prime Minister has in fact defined him as “a fascinating personality”.
But Milei and the Pope had met briefly the day before when they had somewhat buried hostilities. Both greeted and embraced each other after the canonization of Mama Antula, the first Argentine saint. This gesture, including a kiss requested by Milei, was seen as the thaw in relations between the two. The scene was not planned. Or at least, the photo of the two was expected this Monday, during their official meeting. But once the Eucharist was over in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, the pope was transferred in a wheelchair due to his knee problems to where the politician had attended mass, to his right, in front row, in front of a kneeler. That’s when Milei stood up to shake his hand and even give him a hug. They both had a brief, light conversation while laughing. “You cut your hair!” the pope told Milei. “I took too long,” the president replied.
Milei’s attacks on the Pope were part of the general far-right discourse around the world. Since his arrival in Rome, Francis has been one of the favorite targets of ultra-conservative political movements, but also of the Church. From former American President Donald Trump to Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, they had reserved gestures of contempt towards this Pontiff. Milei raised his voice until September, when, in an interview with controversial former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, he said the pope had violated the 10 commandments to advocate for social justice and “was on the side of bloody dictatorships.
Upon his election, he radically changed his approach and began addressing him as “Your Holiness.” The tone and insults stopped as soon as he arrived at Casa Rosada last December and this Saturday voiced on Radio Miter his desire to have “a very fruitful dialogue” with the Pope, whom he now considers “the most important Argentinian in history”.
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