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ARGENTINA | 22-11-2023 14:55

Javier Milei tones down rhetoric on 'communist' Pope Francis after call

Pope Francis communicates with Argentina’s president-elect to congratulate him on his electoral victory. They spoke for five minutes on good terms and Milei invited him to visit next year.

Argentina’s president-elect Javier Milei conversed Tuesday with Pope Francis, inviting him to visit his homeland following months of tense relations at the start of coordinating an "ordered and responsible" transition with his predecessor, Alberto Fernández.

Milei’s contacts with both Fernández and the Argentine-born pontiff are a swift volte-face after his fierce criticism of both during the campaign. The La Libertad Avanza has referred to Francis on various occasions as "the evil on Earth occupying the throne of the House of God" while also calling him "sinister" and "an imbecile" and criticising him for "pushing Communism." The remarks prompted a Mass of repudiation from the local Church.

Yet despite the abuse – which Milei claims he apologised for prior to being elected – the president-elect received a telephone call from Pope Francis on Tuesday while he was at a television studio preparing for an interview. 

"His Holiness Pope Francis communicated with our future president to congratulate him and express his wishes for unity and progress for our homeland," detailed the office of the La Libertad Avanza president-elect in a statement.

The candidate "thanked the words of the Supreme Pontiff," read the communiqué.

"Not only did this not surprise me but it contributed to putting Argentina’s relationship with the Holy See back where it belongs from where it never should have strayed," commented José Ignacio López, an old friend of Francis and an ecclesiastical analyst, to AFP.

In a later interview, Milei said Francis had called him to offer his best wishes.

"He called me to congratulate me, saying that he valued my courage in this battle and recommending 'courage and wisdom.' I told him: 'I already have the guts and I’m working on the wisdom,’" said Milei, who in a separate interview referred to Francis as “Your Holiness” throughout.

The libertarian president-elect further revealed that he had invited the Pope to come to Argentina, adding: "I told him that he would be received with all the honours of a head of state and as the spiritual leader of the Argentines because Catholicism is the majority religion in Argentina."

A visit next year would mark the first time Jorge Bergoglio has set foot in his native land since being elected Pope Francis in 2013.

The Pope’s call to Milei to hail his convincing run-off victory over Unión por la Patria candidate Sergio Massa corresponds to the normal protocol since it is the Catholic Church leader’s custom to congratulate new heads of state and government. 

Massa pressed him on ties with the Holy See issue during the presidential debate, to which Milei responded that he had already apologised for previous remarks: "You seem to be misinformed because I had already said sorry for that and would have no problem doing that again because when I am mistaken, I have no problem in my repeating my repentance. Furthermore, one of the things I always said is that if the Pope wanted to come to Argentina, he would be respected not only as a head of state but as the leader of the Catholic Church.”

 

– TIMES/AFP

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