Pope Francis Skips Argentina Once Again
For centuries, the Catholic Church´s popes have been Italians. In the last four decades, the Vatican has been led by three non-Italian popes: the Polish Karol Wojtyla, the German Joseph Ratzinger, and the Argentine Jorge Bergoglio. As Argentine journalist Pablo Sirvén has pointed out, Francis´s predecessors visited their native countries within the year of their enthronement. Almost five years into his pontificate, the Argentine Pope has yet to do so. This prompted disappointment in Buenos Aires.
Francis made six trips to the Americas in which he visited ten different countries. Saving the United States, all other countries were Latin American: Cuba, Mexico, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, Colombia, Brazil, Chile and Peru. He flew over Argentina´s airspace twice, but he did not land. When flying over Argentina days ago en route to neighboring Chile, as mandated by protocol, he sent a telegram to the Argentine President Mauricio Macri. Although the papal spokesman Greg Burke had anticipated that it would be an “interesting” message, Francis sent a formal telegram –in English. That was strange, especially when contrasting with the message he has sent to the previous president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, in Spanish, the language of his compatriots. As Italian historian Loris Zanatta observed, while for the rest of the world the focus of this pontifical trip was on Chile and Peru, for Argentines the real news was that the Argentine Pope would not go to their country.
It is no secret that Francis harbors little sympathy for the current president of Argentina. Just as he greeted coldly Chilean President-elect Sebastian Piñera whereas he shook hands warmly with former President Ricardo Lagos (the first is a Conservative, the second a Socialist), he has similarly treated the conservative Macri, in stark contrast to the populist Cristina Kirchner. While she refused to hand over the presidential staff to her successor, the Pope decided not to salute Mr. Macri on the day of his inauguration. While he urged all Argentines to “take care of Cristina”, he never expressed such a concern publicly regarding Mauricio Macri. This Pope opened the Vatican´s gates to a succession of Kirchner politicians (many of them prosecuted for corruption) but was initially reluctant to receive officials from the current government, and when he did grant them an audience he did not look particularly cheerful. The photograph that portrayed the first meeting in Rome between the Argentine pope and the Argentine president is by now legendary: Bergoglio´s hard face elicited tons of political commentary in the local media.
The Pope raised a few eyebrows with his deeds. He has not granted an audience to the catholic widow and orphaned daughters of murdered prosecutor Alberto Nisman. He simply greeted them in St. Peter’s Square when they made a stopover in Rome en route to Israel, but he did meet with the late prosecutor’s boss, Attorney General Alejandra Gils Carbó, who had opposed Nisman’s planned trip to Washington to present his denunciation of the Memorandum of Understanding between Argentina and Iran. The Pope did not go to Venezuela, but he welcomed Nicolás Maduro in Rome. He once questioned the Christian identity of President Donald Trump due to a political discrepancy, but he had no qualms about meeting with anticlerical atheist Fidel Castro in Havana (refusing at the same time to meet with the opposition movement Las Damas de Blanco). And he called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “an angel of peace.” This Pope´s ideological position is crystal-clear.
Initially, Pope Francis had a gesture of generosity towards Mauricio Macri on the day of his enthronement. President Cristina Kirchner had excluded him from the official delegation that would travel to the Vatican for the ceremony. The new pontiff personally invited Mr. Macri to Rome. But the expectation of a cordial relationship between the two quickly vanished. And it was not the president´s fault.
During his stay in Chile, possibly attentive to the discontent among his compatriots in light of the non-visit to Argentina, at a Mass in Iquique Francis remarked: “I want to thank the presence of so many pilgrims from brotherly peoples, from Bolivia, Peru and -do not be jealous- especially of Argentines, who are my homeland.” Around fifteen thousand Argentinians travelled to Chile to see the Pope. It had been estimated that a million people would cross the border. Perhaps this is indicative of the disappointment that Argentinians are now experiencing concerning the first Argentine Pope in history.