Rome — Despite a rocky start, Argentine President Javier Milei and Pope Francis seemed to have hit it off in their meeting on Monday, amid speculation that the Argentine pontiff might finally return home for a visit this year.
The two men met for an hour and 10 minutes, according to the Vatican, an unusually long audience for Francis’ papacy.
On the way to his audience, Milei stopped his convoy on the Via della Conciliazione boulevard leading to the Vatican to greet supporters and then continued towards the Apostolic Palace. He presented Francisco with some of his favorite Argentine alfajores of dulce de leche and lemon cookies, while Francisco presented him with the documents of his papacy and a medallion.
The previous day a cordial tone had already been set when Milei hugged Francisco at the end of a mass to canonize the first Argentine saint. With a smile, the pope commented that the president had cut his hair.
Milei’s office published photos of the hug in X.
The relationship was not always like this. Milei, who describes himself as a libertarian and anarcho-capitalist and has promised a series of austerity measures to revive Argentina’s economy, described Francisco as an “imbecile” during the electoral campaign that brought him to power. He also called the pope “representative of the evil one on Earth.”
Francisco, who has also lamented Argentina’s prolonged economic crisis, appeared to have forgiven him and downplayed the criticism as mere campaign rhetoric.
The 87-year-old pontiff mentioned last month his hope to visit Argentina this year and for the first time since he was elected in 2013. His absence in his country during the last decade despite his visits to neighboring countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Chile has baffled Argentines and foreigners alike.
Milei invited Francis to visit, and the country’s bishops have also pushed for him to finally come home.
Milei was scheduled to meet later Monday with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and President Sergio Mattarella.
Milei had reasons to reach the audience in a good mood. During the night, Israeli forces freed two hostages with Argentine citizenship who had been held hostage by Hamas since October 7. Milei arrived in Rome last Friday after a visit to Israel, where she spent time with the local Argentine community.
In a message on X, his office thanked Israeli forces for the rescue.