President Alberto Fernández met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Thursday for a meeting focused on poverty, the coronavirus pandemic and Argentina’s debt woes.
The closed-door talks were held in the studio next to the Paul VI Audience Hall at the Vatican. Casa Rosada sources described the meeting as “excellent” and said the audience lasted around 25 minutes.
"In my meeting with Pope Francis, we talked about the problems that the world and Argentina are going through. I appreciate his continuing support in favour of the recovery of Argentina. His leadership in pursuit of equality guides us and commits us to a more human world," the president later wrote on Twitter.
At the end of the meeting, Fernández and Francis were joined by the rest of the presidential delegation – which included First Lady Fabiola Yañez, Economy Minister Martín Guzmán, Foreign Minister Felipe Solá and fellow government officials Julio Vitobello, Guillermo Olivieri, Juan Pablo Biondi and Gustavo Beliz – for a photograph.
The Peronist leader then went on to meet with the Vatican's number two, Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and with Monsignor Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States.
"The situation in the country [Argentina] was discussed, with special reference to some problems such as the management of the pandemic emergency, the economic and financial crisis and the fight against poverty, noting, in this context, the significant contribution that the Catholic Church has offered and continues to provide," the Vatican said later in a statement.
At the end of the private meeting, the duo exchanged gifts. Francis gave Fernández a mosaic of man and woman related to Genesis, bearing the slogan: "The fruit of the earth and man's work is transformed for us into the food of eternal life." The Peronist leader in turn gave the pontiff organic honey products made by an Argentine cooperative, a selection of books and ornaments.
Fernández, 62, last visited Francis at the Vatican in January 2020 for a long private audience. On that occasion the two leaders, who have known each other for years, spoke on debt and poverty. However, the two were at odds over last year’s legalisation of abortion in Argentina.
To his closest allies, the president is said to have told them that he “tries to take care” of his relationship with the pontiff, preferring not to ask him to visit the country nor speak too publicly about him.
Speaking prior to this week’s meeting while in France, he told one reporter from Perfil that "Francisco has a very great commitment to Argentina.”
In the past, the Argentine pontiff has spoken out about impoverished nations struggling with heavy debt woes and both the Vatican and Buenos Aires have similar positions on the issue such of vaccination and the potential waiving of Covid-19 vaccine patents.
Last Saturday, Pope Francis strongly criticised "closed nationalism, which prevents an internationalism of vaccines," while advocating for an equitable distribution of shots to the countries most in need.
On what was a busy Thursday, Fernández also had lunch with the president of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, and then met with the head of government, renowned economist Mario Draghi, with whom he spoke for almost two hours.