Argentine President Milei to visit Pope Francis

MEXICO CITY (OSV News) -- Javier Milei, who disparaged the pope while campaigning for president, is expected to travel to the Vatican next month, according to Argentine media, marking the first meeting between the Argentine leader and Pope Francis since Milei's surprise election victory.

The Vatican invited Milei to attend the Feb. 11 canonization of María Antonia de Paz y Figueroa, known as Mama Antula in Argentina, according to Vatican and presidential sources, the Buenos Aires newspaper Clarín reported. Milei would attend the canonization after visiting Israel -- a country he has strongly supported.

A spokesman for the Argentine bishops' conference referred questions to the Argentine government. Attempts to reach a government spokesperson were unsuccessful. A Vatican spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

News of the president's Vatican trip followed Milei’s releasing of a letter on Jan. 11, in which he invited Pope Francis to visit his native Argentina for the first time since being elected in 2013.

"You well know that you do not need an invitation to come to Argentina. At the risk of saying the unnecessary, I invite you to visit our beloved homeland, according to the dates and places indicated to us," read the letter, which was dated Jan. 8.

The invitations come amid an economic crisis in Argentina, where inflation in 2023 reached 211% and poverty topped 40%, according to government statistics.

A self-described anarcho capitalist, who ran on a platform of slashing state spending and shrinking government, Milei has introduced a series of reforms and decrees aimed at deregulating the Argentine economy and reducing the country’s budget deficit.

Milei's initiatives have provoked street protests, though a monthly survey measuring confidence in government from the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella surged by 102.1% in the three weeks following the Dec. 10 presidential inauguration.

Church criticism of Milei has remained somewhat muted since the inauguration. Observers in Argentina say the church has traditionally worked with governments on social issues such as poverty. But they also see Milei expressing hopes that priests -- and possibly the pope -- can provide a stabilizing influence in times of discontent.

"The president is going to need the church in the social aspect," Mariano De Vedia, religion writer and an editor at the newspaper La Nación, told OSV News. "They are going to need church help to contain social discontent or the social situation."

Milei said in his letter to the pontiff that the Argentine economy "is in a critical state and urgent measures must be adopted to avoid a social catastrophe with painful consequences."

He continued, "We are aware that these (government) decisions can deepen inequalities, therefore, our top priority is to protect our most vulnerable compatriots, thanking the collaboration of the Catholic Church, whose action in the social field is invaluable."

- - - David Agren writes for OSV News from Mexico City. - - - NOTES: