Argentine President Cristina Fernández revealed she asked Pope Francis for his “holy intervention” regarding the Falklands/Malvinas case, during the meeting held Monday in the Vatican which was followed by lunch.
“We exchanged gifts, I gave him a hand-made mate set and a vicuña poncho from Catamarca province so he can be well protected during the Italian winter. Then he gave me a very personal gift which was a white rose that he said it represents Saint Teresa, to whom he prays all the time”, said the Argentine president during a brief encounter with the press at her hotel.
“I encountered a very calm and secured man who was in total peace. Nevertheless, I also met a very concerned man for his upcoming responsibilities”, she said.
“During our dialogue I asked Pope Francis for his holy intervention in the Malvinas case so that Great Britain can understand the resolutions issued by the United Nations calling them (UK) to join Argentina in a negotiating table”, in order to discuss the sovereignty of the Malvinas, South Georgia, and South Sandwich islands in the South Atlantic.
The Argentine leader recalled John Paul II intervention during the conflict of Argentina with Chile over the control of the Beagle channel in the extreme south of the continent, which prevented a major armed conflict between the two countries in 1978.
“Now we are facing another historic opportunity. Both countries have democratic governments and there is no danger of any was, except for the militarization of the South Atlantic”, said Cristina Fernandez.
Likewise, the Argentine president said that Francis praised the “great role” and “unity” that Latin American leaders are showing in order to build ‘La Patria Grande’ (the big motherland).
”He did use the term “Patria Grande”, the president explained and continued “and then he told me he had used that term because it was the term used by our great San Martín and Bolivar”, thus referring to the most emblematic leaders of the independence movement from Spain in Latin America.
As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the current Pope received many times the Malvinas veterans, organized masses and prayed next to them, and more than once is on record for having stated that “the Malvinas are Argentine”.
Relations between President Cristina Fernandez and then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio have been tense since he was a persistent critic of poverty and political corruption in Argentina. On more than an occasion when Bergoglio requested an interview with the President, she had him in the waiting list and had him again wait when the appointment was agreed.
Furthermore she had a presidential speech writer, Horacio Verbitsky look into the Catholic Church’s activities during the latest dictatorship (1976/1983) and tried to frame Bergoglio with an incident involving Jesuit priests working in shanty towns. The book was titled ‘Silence’ and some excerpts referred to Bergoglio were sent to some of the cardinals at the conclave both when Benedict and Francis were chosen.
The first release from the Argentine presidency in reaction to Bergoglio’s election as a Pope was described as ‘excessively formal and cold”. The attitude was rapidly changed the following day.
The meeting with Pope Francis took place at the Domus Sanctae Marthae in the Vatican City, where he is currently living. Lunch with the pontiff started at 12:50pm (8:50am Argentine time). The original plan contemplated the presence of Argentine Ambassador to the Vatican Juan Pablo Cafiero and Papal Nuncio in Argentina Emil Paul Tscherrig, but then it was changed to a two-person only lunch so Cristina Fernández could have a private exchange with the recently-elected Pope.
However Cristina Fernandez did present the Pope some members of her delegation: Foreign minister Hector Timerman, Ambassador Cafiero, Communications secretary Alfredo Soccimarro and her secretary Martin Aguirre.
The president also invited Pope Francis to visit Argentina any time soon, but said that though Francis could not assure her when he’ll be visiting his home-land, “he told me that he’ll study his agenda and see when he can possibly come over”
Thus, Argentina’s President became the first head of state to hold a private audience with the Pope. The next will be Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff according to the Vatican office.
Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi said there would be no official release on today’s meeting since Cristina Fernandez attendance was an “informal visit” and described the invitation as a “cordial gesture” to Argentina.
The Argentine president is accompanied by an official delegation of 12 members, will also attend Tuesday’s ceremony along with approximately 150 other heads of state, after which she will return to Buenos Aires. Argentina was provided with extra places for its delegation because it is the country of the pope’s origins, as other countries’ leaders will be accompanied by a maximum of four officials.
The Argentine delegation includes Minister Timerman, Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti, Lower House Speaker Julián Domínguez and Radical (UCR) Deputy Ricardo Alfonsín, the latter of whom departed separately on Friday with his wife. Also in the delegation are Argentine Synod head José María Arancedo, Bishop Carlos Alberto Acaputo, who heads the Church’s social-pastoral work team, pro-government CGT umbrella union grouping leader Antonio Caló, taxi-drivers’ union leader Omar Viviani and longshoremen’s union head Omar Suárez.
The delegation was later expanded, with the inclusion of Public Communications Secretary Scoccimarro, Argentine Industrial Union (UIA) President José Ignacio de Mendiguren and Argentine Municipalities Federation head Julio Pereyra (the mayor of Florencio Varela.