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HomeWorldPope canonises first female Argentine saint before meeting with Milei

Pope canonises first female Argentine saint before meeting with Milei

Argentina’s President Javier Milei and Argentine Foreign Minister Diana Mondino meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican February 11, 2024.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

Pope Francis elevated to sainthood the first female saint from his native Argentina on February 11, an event that brought to the Vatican his former vocal critic, Argentine President Javier Milei.

Mr. Milei, a right-wing libertarian, called Pope Francis an “imbecile” and accused him of “preaching communism” before he ran for president, but has softened his tone since taking office in December.

The Pope, for his part, has said he did not pay too much attention to the insults, telling Mexican broadcaster N+ that what matters is what politicians do in office, rather than on the campaign trail.

Pope Francis led a canonisation Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica for Maria Antonia de Paz y Figueroa, better known as “Mama Antula”, an 18th century consecrated lay woman who renounced her family’s riches to focus on charity and Jesuit spiritual exercises.

The ceremony came as Argentina faces its worst economic crisis in decades, with inflation at more than 200%, and after the country’s parliament rejected Mr. Milei’s major reform package.

Mr. Milei had a front row seat for the service, and at the end of it, exchanged a few words with the pope, as they shook hands and hugged. The President is due to have a private audience with the Pope on Feb. 12.

Pope Francis, a former archbishop of Buenos Aires who has angered some of his compatriots by never visiting his homeland since becoming the Pope in 2013, has said he may finally make the trip in the second half of this year.

‘Great injustice’ of ignoring the weak

Mama Antula was the daughter of a wealthy landholder and slave owner. She promoted spiritual exercises, including prayers and meditation, walking thousands of kilometres barefoot and involving the rich and poor in these endeavours, despite the Jesuits being banished at the time from Latin America.

Pope Francis, himself a Jesuit, described her on Friday as a “gift to the Argentine people and also to the entire Church.”

Quoting from his past writings, he condemned the “radical individualism” that permeates society as a “virus”, in words that may jar with Mr. Milei’s radical free-market instincts.

In his homily on Sunday, he returned to the issue of caring for the poor and outcasts, saying “fear, prejudice and false religiosity” led people to the “great injustice” of ignoring the plight of the weak.

On Jan. 12, wrapping up a week-long overseas tour that took him to Israel before Italy and the Vatican, Mr. Milei is also due to meet Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

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