Argentina’s top political and religious leaders — President Javier Milei and Pope Francis — met for the first time yesterday in Rome, amid the explosive economic situation in their native country.
The two men with sharply diverging views on how to eradicate the poverty gripping Argentina met briefly before and after a papal mass, during the 53-year-old economist’s first official visit to Rome as president.
Milei, a libertarian and free-market champion who once called the 87-year-old pope from Buenos Aires an “imbecile” who “promotes communism”, attended the ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica to canonise Argentina’s first female saint.
Following the mass, Francis, in a wheelchair, stopped briefly to shake hands and share a few words with Milei amid the congregation, who gave the pontiff a hug.
The Vatican said they also met briefly beforehand.
An official audience comes today, when Milei also plans to meet with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
The meeting between the two men comes amid major political uncertainty in Argentina, where newcomer Milei is engaged in a controversial, massive deregulation of Argentina’s economy by presidential decree.
Milei and Francis radically disagree over how to tackle poverty, which affects 40% of the population of Argentina, where inflation soars over 200*.
Francis has railed throughout his papacy against the inequalities generated by the free markets, calling for protection of the most vulnerable in society.
Argentine President Javier Milei with Pope Francis at the Vatican yesterday. (Reuters)