While the mass is due to begin in a few minutes, a small commotion has been created not far from the large white seat where the pope is to sit. At Saint Peter’s in Rome, this Sunday, February 11, it was not the arrival of Francis that caused a small crowd movement, but that of another Argentinian: Javier Milei. The new president, who came to Rome to attend the canonization of Maria Antonia de Paz y Figuerora (1730-1799), the first Argentine saint, better known in his country as “Mama Antula”, multiplied the selfies with some of the 500 Argentinians present in the Vatican basilica.
If the pope and the president met for a few minutes in the sacristy, before mass, it is Monday February 12 that the real interview will take place, scheduled for the morning. So what will the two men be able to say to each other?
The ultraliberal president, elected on November 19, spent part of his campaign insulting his Argentine compatriot, calling him a“fool defending social justice”of “representative of the Evil One on earth” or even “nefarious character”“who preaches communist”.
“I am ready to start a dialogue with him”
But his criticisms, perfectly known by the Pope, have since been largely put into perspective by Francis. He made it known that he would not take into account comments made during the electoral campaign. “I am ready to start a dialogue – talking and listening – with him,” he said in an interview published in La StampaJanuary 29.
During the mass, which Javier Milei attended in the front row, accompanied by his sister Karina, secretary general of the Argentine presidency, and two ministers, the pope pleaded in favor of those who, in our societies, are marginalized. “How many suffering people do we encounter on the sidewalks of our cities! » he asked. Was this a first message for the Argentine president, whose reforms are causing significant social tensions in his country?
On his arrival in Rome, Friday February 10, the Argentine president in any case seemed to want to give pledges to begin a “very fruitful dialogue”, far from the diatribes of the campaign. The president thus defined the pope, in an interview given to Argentine radio Miter, as “the most important Argentinian in history”.
The two men had already spoken for the first time by telephone, three days after the Argentine election, during an impromptu phone call during which Javier Milei invited the pope to Argentina. A possible visit of the pope to his country of origin should be one of the subjects discussed during the interview.
A trip at the end of 2024?
For several months, the return to the country of the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, a journey never accomplished since the start of the pontificate, has become a leading subject in Rome. Such a visit was first considered for April 2024, after Easter, before Francis said he preferred to go. “in the second half of 2024”without further details.
Why such a postponement? “If he goes, it will be a tricky journey,” says one of the Latin Americans in the Curia, who emphasizes the differences between the pope and Javier Milei. “By maintaining vagueness about the date of a trip, it leaves the door open to a possible postponement and gives itself the possibility of canceling”, continues the same source.
The Argentinians of the Vatican
Over the years, François never returned to Argentina, but he surrounded himself with several collaborators from his country. This is particularly the case of the man who has been, since the fall, the new prefect of the dicastery for the doctrine of the faith, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez. It is also that of Emilce Cuda, an Argentine theologian appointed in 2022 secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
Recently, the Vatican also announced the move to Rome of a community of Argentine nuns, who now occupy the Mater Ecclesiae monastery, in the Vatican gardens. A place inhabited by Benedict XVI for ten years, between his renunciation and his death.
Javier Milei, for his part, will not be able to count on the support of his ambassador during this visit: she is one of the diplomats to have been immediately dismissed following the election. His last initiative was to organize a meeting between the pope and the new president. According to the Argentinian daily The NationJavier Milei will also be received, after meeting the Pope, by the Italian President Sergio Mattarella and by the Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni.