It appears that two of the world’s most prominent Argentinians have buried the hatchet – for now. Argentina President Javier Milei and Pope Francis met on Monday at the Vatican and appeared to be quite chummy.
This turn of events is noteworthy given that both men have taken multiple shots at each other during Argentina’s election season. This meeting could be a signal on the part of both men that they are agreeing to a rhetorical ceasefire of sorts.
Despite their rocky start, Argentina’s President Javier Milei and Pope Francis appeared to have hit it off as they held their first meeting Monday amid speculation that the Argentine pontiff might finally go home for a visit later this year.
The Vatican said the two men met for an hour and 10 minutes, an unusually long audience by Francis’ standards, especially given no translation was required. Vatican video showed a smiling Francis briefly grasping Milei’s arm for support as they walked to his desk at the start of their meeting.
Milei, who once called the pope an “imbecile,” gave Francis some of his favorite Argentine dulce de leche alfajor cookies and lemon biscuits. Francis presented him with the documents of his papacy and a medallion.
“One of the things that I’ve come to understand, among other things, is that the pope is the Argentine who is the most important person in the country,” Milei said in an interview being broadcast later Monday by Italy’s Retequattro.
A warm tone was already set the previous day, when Milei embraced Francis with a bear hug at the end of a Mass to declare Argentina’s first female saint. A beaming pope quipped, “You cut your hair!”
🇦🇷⛪️ Javier Milei hugs Pope Francis in the Vatican after criticizing him during his presidential campaign
The Pontiff and the Argentine president embraced on Sunday in St. Peter’s Basilica .
Thank you God for now just hug… pic.twitter.com/ugkU4o5oor
— brane mijatovic (@brane_mija64426) February 11, 2024
During the meeting, Milei and Francis discussed how they might strengthen relations between Argentina and the Vatican. They also conversed about the dire state of the nation’s economy, which has been suffering heightened inflation rates.
The conflict between the two men appears to have been largely based on economic philosophy.
In the years preceding his election in November, Mr. Milei often attacked the pope, who in his writings and speeches has repeatedly spoken out against free market economies for generating income inequalities that affect the most vulnerable.
In 2020, Mr. Milei called Francis “the representative of the Evil One on Earth” because of the pope’s defense of “social justice.” Two years later, Mr. Milei said that Francis “always stands on the side of evil” because the pope supported taxation.
Francis appeared to be unperturbed, brushing off the criticism as electoral hyperbole. Mr. Milei’s comments were made “in jest,” the pope said in an interview in December with a Mexican broadcaster.
“You have to distinguish a lot between what a politician says in the election campaign and what he actually does afterward,” Francis added, “because then comes the moment of concreteness, of decisions.”
The meeting comes amid talks of Francis visiting his homeland in the future.
It had been widely speculated by Vatican experts that the two leaders would speak of a possible papal trip to Argentina during their meeting, but the Vatican did not confirm any talks on that topic. Francis has made 44 trips outside Italy since becoming pope nearly 11 years ago, but he has never returned home. In January, Mr. Milei issued a formal invitation.
In an interview on Friday with Vatican News, an official Vatican outlet, Archbishop Jorge Ignacio García Cuerva of Buenos Aires said that the Argentine people were waiting for Pope Francis “and want to meet with their pastor.”
Strategically, it might be smart to make nice with the Pope given that a significant percentage of Argentina’s population is Catholic. But it will be interesting to see how Francis reacts to Milei’s crusade to rid the nation’s government of the type of socialist policies that the Pope has favored.