Argentina’s Javier Milei makes up with Pope Francis over pastries, biscuits
- Milei had heaped insults on Francis during his election campaign last year, calling him an ‘imbecile who defends social justice’
- They met as Argentina faces its worst economic crisis in decades, with inflation at more than 200 per cent and Milei in trouble after his major reform package was rejected
Milei, a maverick right-wing libertarian, had heaped insults on Francis during his vote campaign last year, calling him an “imbecile who defends social justice”. But the president has shifted tone in office as he tries to shore up support among his conservative Catholic base amid mounting challenges.
Francis and Milei spoke for about one hour, the Vatican said, without giving details of the conversation.
The president discussed “the new [Argentine] government’s programme to counter the economic crisis” among other topics, during separate talks with the Vatican’s second-in-command, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, a Vatican statement said.
Before the meeting, when asked about the past insults, the head of the Vatican’s doctrine office said: “The Pope is a person who has a lot of affection for everyone, so there’s no question about him having any animosity.”
The pope had seen the past comments “as a campaign strategy” Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, who is also Argentine, told journalists. Even if the pope may not like “some political and ideological trends” in Argentina, “he will always be concerned about those who suffer”, he added.
Francis, a former archbishop of Buenos Aires, has angered some of his compatriots by not visiting his homeland since becoming pope in 2013.
He has said he may finally travel to “suffering” Argentina in the second half of this year – though Cardinal Fernandez said on Monday it was unclear whether the papal trip would happen “because it depends on a lot of things”.
Securing such a visit could be a major boost to Milei as he seeks to please his conservative Catholic supporters.
Francis has previously said he did not want to be politically exploited by Argentine politicians. On Friday, he said “radical individualism” permeates society like a “virus”, in words that may jar with Milei’s radical free-market instincts.
But the meetings on Monday, and earlier over the weekend, appeared to go well.
Milei brought alfajores de dulce de leche pastries and a brand of lemon biscuits the pope likes on Monday, presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni said.
On Sunday, they talked at the end of a canonisation Mass in St Peter’s Basilica for the first female Argentine saint, Maria Antonia de Paz y Figueroa, an 18th century consecrated lay woman better known as “Mama Antula”.
Francis, who is 87 and has difficulty walking, was in a wheelchair as he went to greet Milei after the service. He smiled, extended his hand and told him, “You cut your hair!”
Milei, who still wears his hair unconventionally long for a politician, joked about having cleaned up his act and asked if he could hug and kiss the pope. A smiling Francis replied: “Yes, son, yes”.
He hailed the pope as “the most important Argentine in history” in an interview on Saturday.