As Pope Francis flew over his native Argentina yesterday, he sent President Mauricio Macri a telegram – in English. The telegram directed Macri to send Argentines “his heartfelt best wishes” and reminded them to “pray for him”.
During his South America tour, he will not be visiting his home country, a divisive choice that some are calling politically charged while others are shrugging off.
Macri replied to the telegram with a solemn tweet, showing appreciation for the Pope’s greetings and blessings and wishing him a successful visit to Chile and Peru.
En nombre de todo el pueblo argentino agradezco el saludo y la bendición de @Pontifex_es al sobrevolar nuestro país. Deseo que su visita a los hermanos de Chile y Perú sea fuente de paz, esperanza e inspiración. La Argentina lo acompaña con el cariño y el respeto de siempre
— Mauricio Macri (@mauriciomacri) January 15, 2018
This telegram, however, isn’t any sort of special treatment for the Pope to Argentina. He actually sent telegrams to every country he flew over on his way from Rome, including Italy, France, Morocco, Cape Verde, Senegal, Brazil and Paraguay.
While the Pope and the president exchange pleasantries publicly, many wonder if this is the continuation of what Perfil once called “a Cold War” between the two powerful leaders. Back in February of 2016, Perfil quoted a source close to the Pope saying that the Pontiff was “trying to distance himself from the current government,” and that “he knew exactly what he was doing” when he avoided a visit to Argentina.
Macri’s cabinet chief Marcos Peña maintains that the Pope’s absence is not political, and that “he doesn’t need an invitation. When he decides it is the right time to visit us, we will greet him with open arms.”
So what is it? According to this New York Times article from last week, some Argentines feel as though the Pope is intentionally ignoring them. Pope Francis and President Macri have had a rocky relationship since Macri was the mayor of Buenos Aires and Jorge Bergoglio (now known as Pope Francis) was the city’s Archbishop. In 2010, Macri refused to appeal a same-sex marriage, setting the tone for their fraught relationship.
When the two met in 2016, their meeting lasted for 22 minutes, which many considered to be very short, especially compared to Bergoglio’s more friendly encounters with former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. It is widely assumed that the Pope endorsed Macri’s Kirchner-endorsed opponent in the 2015 presidential election, adding to the tension.
By the end of this trip, he will have visited more than half the countries in South America, including Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador and Colombia, Chile (where he is today) and Peru. And yet, so far there are no plans to come Argentina.
At the same time, others are saying that this is an overreaction. “The Pope is a prudent and wise man and will know when it’s the best time to travel to Argentina. We must be patient,” argued Alfredo Miguel Abriani, a senior Foreign Ministry official who oversees religious affairs in Argentina.
Even if the Pope is skipping our country to avoid drama with Macri, he isn’t avoiding controversy altogether. His visit to Chile began with a remarkable apology for the Church’s abuse of young boys in Chile. “I can’t stop expressing the shame I feel,” said the Pope during the reception with President Michelle Bachellet.