President Mauricio Macri met with Pope Francis in Vatican City on Saturday and local and international media have since been calling the holy rendez-vous — which lasted a whopping 22 minutes — “icy.”
Saturday was the first time the two met since Macri assumed his presidency in December last year and the event was meant to mark a historic moment in the new presidential term. But according to El País, gone were the camaraderie and jokes usually associated with Pope Francis’ encounters. Instead, the head of the Catholic Church’s face remained “very serious” throughout, the media outlet states.
The encounter has inevitably led some news publications to compare Francis’ relationship with former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whom he met with on six different occasions for periods of time longer than 22 minutes. The Pontiff even invited her to a private lunch on her visit to the Vatican a couple of years ago. Their relationship was a complex one, certainly, but at least it was existent in a way that Macri’s relationship with the Pope doesn’t appear to be. Mac didn’t even manage to secure a date for a long-awaited papal visit to Argentina either. “He told me he will do it as soon as possible,” the Argentine President said. Sure.
Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra has since jumped to Macri’s defense, explaining that the shortness of the meeting was simply due to the fact that Mac is a “man of few words.” National Deputy Elisa Carrió, asserted her loyalty to team Macri too, actually claiming that if she were President she would not have bothered going to the Vatican at all.
Adding to the awkwardness, Macri initially reported that the topics discussed were mainly to do with corruption and drug trafficking. However, according to a Vatican statement, the Pope apparently also asked the President to maintain “respect for human rights, justice, peace and social reconciliation.” Given the fact that Macri has been showered with criticism regarding purported shortcomings in the human rights department — notably, the continued imprisonment of Tupac Amaru leader Milagro Sala over charges still being investigated, as well as the recently rolled-out protest protocol which many see as an attempt to curtail citizens’ right to protest — this could be interpreted as the Pope expressing concern over the state of human rights in Argentina under Macri. Just a couple of weeks ago, the Pope expressed his “worry” about Sala’s situation and sent a blessed rosary to her prison cell.
Macri and Pope Francis’s relationship actually goes wayyy back. Before Francis was elected as head of the Catholic Church, he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, while Macri was the City of Buenos Aires’ mayor. Their relationship has more or less been on the rocks since 2010 when Macri refused to appeal a homosexual marriage, which laid down the foundations for the legislation of same-sex marriage in Argentina. Following this, during the Presidential elections last year, Pope Francis urged Argentines to “vote according to their consciences” adding, “you already know what I think.” Many took this as his endorsement of Cristina’s hand-picked successor and Macri’s opponent, Daniel Scioli (FpV).