Pope Francis, Milei hold conciliatory meeting at Vatican

Following insults on the campaign trail, the president and the pontiff spoke for an hour in an apparent conciliation

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) — President Javier Milei held a one-hour private meeting with Pope Francis and senior Vatican officials on Monday, seeking to close a rift with alfajores and biscuits. 

The president, having just concluded his trip to Israel, discussed “the new government’s program 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.

Milei had heaped insults on Francis during his presidential campaign last year, calling him an “imbecile who defends social justice.” Since becoming president, Milei has softened his tone, telling Radio Mitre on Saturday that the pope “is the most important Argentine in history.”

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 not visited his homeland since becoming pope in 2013. He said earlier this year 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 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 and Havanna lemon biscuits the pope likes on Monday, presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni said. 

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 joked about having cleaned up his act and asked if he could hug and kiss the pope. A smiling Francis replied: “Yes, son, yes.”

The two had spoken briefly on Sunday after a canonization mass in St Peter’s Basilica for Maria Antonia de Paz y Figueroa, an 18th-century consecrated laywoman better known as “Mama Antula” — the first woman born in Argentina to become a saint.

—Reuters

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