Argentina’s President Javier Milei and Pope Francis convened in Rome on Sunday, marking their first-ever meeting. The rendezvous occurred against the backdrop of Argentina’s turbulent economic climate, with both leaders holding contrasting viewpoints on tackling the nation’s pervasive poverty.
President Milei, an advocate for libertarian principles and free-market policies, previously made headlines by criticizing the pontiff as an “imbecile” who promotes communism. Despite their ideological differences, the two men briefly exchanged pleasantries before and after a mass at St Peter’s Basilica, where they shared a handshake and a few words amid the congregation’s presence.
The Vatican confirmed a brief encounter between the two leaders before the mass, with an official audience scheduled for Monday. During his visit to Rome, President Milei intends to meet with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, further underscoring the diplomatic significance of his trip.
The meeting between Milei and Pope Francis unfolds amidst significant political uncertainty in Argentina, as the president pushes forward with controversial economic deregulation measures aimed at revitalizing the nation’s economy. However, their conflicting approaches to addressing poverty, which afflicts nearly 40 percent of Argentina’s population, remain a point of contention.
While Pope Francis has consistently advocated for safeguarding the vulnerable and critiqued the inequalities perpetuated by free-market systems, President Milei’s administration has embarked on a deregulation spree, eliciting both praise and criticism domestically and internationally. Despite facing setbacks in his reform agenda, including parliamentary opposition, Milei remains steadfast in his pursuit of economic revitalization.
Amidst improving relations, President Milei extended an invitation to Pope Francis to visit Argentina, a gesture reciprocating the pope’s earlier congratulatory message on Milei’s election. However, tensions between the two figures have surfaced in the past, notably when Milei accused the pope of political interference and criticized his stance on certain dictatorial regimes. Despite their disagreements, the encounter in Rome symbolizes a potential avenue for dialogue between Argentina’s political and religious spheres.