Argentina’s top political and religious leaders — President Javier Milei and Pope Francis — met for the first time Sunday in Rome, amid the explosive economic situation in their native country.
The two men with sharply diverging views on how to eradicate the poverty gripping Argentina met briefly before and after a papal mass, during the 53-year-old economist’s first official visit to Rome as president.
Milei, a libertarian and free-market champion who once called the 87-year-old pope from Buenos Aires an “imbecile” who “promotes communism,” attended the ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica to canonize Argentina’s first female saint.
Following the mass, Francis, in a wheelchair, stopped briefly to shake hands and share a few words with Milei amid the congregation, who hugged the pontiff.
The Vatican said they also met briefly beforehand.
An official audience comes on Monday when Milei also plans to meet with Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
The two men met amid major political uncertainty in Argentina, where newcomer Milei is engaged in a controversial, massive deregulation of Argentina’s economy by presidential decree.
Milei and Francis radically disagree over how to tackle poverty, which affects 40 percent of the population of Argentina, where inflation soars over 200 percent.