Mama Antula becomes the first Argentine saint 3:13

(CNN) --

Pope Francis received the president of Argentina, Javier Milei, in Vatican City this Monday, where they held an audience that lasted more than an hour.

The meeting occurred one day after the canonization of María Antonia de Paz y Figueroa, known as Mama Antula, the first Argentine saint.

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Milei has described Pope Francis in the past as an "imbecile", a "disgusting leftist" and a "son of a bitch who goes around preaching communism".

Yet during his meetings with the Argentine pontiff at the Vatican over the past two days, the president has acted less like a provocateur and more like a prodigal son. On Monday, the two held their first official meeting, which the Vatican said lasted 70 minutes, an unusually long hearing by Francis' standards.

After meeting with the Pope, the Argentine president met with senior diplomats of the Holy See, including Cardinal Pietro Parolin. A Vatican statement described these talks as "cordial" and said topics included "the new government's program to counter the economic crisis" in Argentina. Year-on-year inflation in Argentina exceeded 211% in December, the highest level in more than three decades, and poverty levels reached 40%, according to the country's National Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INDEC).


(Credit: presidency of Argentina)

The Vatican statement made no mention of a possible papal visit to Argentina, although Francis has said he is willing to make his first trip home since his election in 2013 during the second half of the year.

The pope's meeting with Milei took place in the Renaissance-era apostolic palace of the Vatican, and, as is customary, the two Argentines exchanged gifts at the end. Milei's gifts to the pope included a commemorative postcard of a new Argentine saint and some of Francis' favorite dulce de leche alfajores and lemon cookies. The pope gave the president a bronze medallion inspired by St. Peter's baldachin, his writings, including this year's message for peace, and some rosaries.

In his first visit abroad since his election, President Milei traveled to Italy after spending three days in Israel and, on Sunday, February 11, sat in the front row at St. Peter's Basilica during the mass at which the pope canonized to the first Argentine saint, Mama Antula.

Once the mass was over, they were seen hugging each other affectionately, and Francisco jokingly asked Milei: "Did you cut your hair?", in reference to the 53-year-old president's unruly mane. Milei responded, "Can I hug you?"

However, under the smiles and warm hugs, the Argentine pontiff and the new president maintain deeply opposing worldviews. Milei is a libertarian populist who during the election campaign brandished a chainsaw with which he promised to cut spending and apply "economic shock therapy" to his country. Milei's plans for cuts and changes to labor legislation have already sparked strong protests.

(Credit: presidency of Argentina)

On the other hand, the 87-year-old pontiff has harshly criticized the global capitalist system, lamenting the failures of the "trickle-down economy" and repeatedly defending workers' rights.

On the eve of the Argentine elections, he warned against leaders who promise to solve problems in a "messianic" way and who act like the "Pied Piper of Hamlin" and "follow the music, and everyone drowns." These statements were interpreted as criticism of Milei. Addressing a group of Argentine pilgrims days before meeting the president, Francis criticized "radical individualism" as a "virus" and during the canonization of Mama Antula lamented the large number of "suffering men and women we find on the sidewalks." of our cities!"

Before their face-to-face meeting, Francis and Milei had spoken by phone and the pope congratulated him on his electoral victory and wished him courage and wisdom.

The president, for his part, has officially invited the pope to visit Argentina.

Milei has also apologized for his insults to Francisco and called him "the most important Argentine in history" this weekend, according to Argentine state news agency Télam. Milei is also scheduled to meet with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Monday before returning to Argentina.

With information from Christopher Lamb, Claudia Rebaza and Marlon Sorto.

Javier MileiPope Francisco