Argentine President Javier Milei and the Argentine-born Pope Francis embraced Sunday at the Vatican during the canonization of María Antonia de Paz y Figueroa (1730-1799), known as Mama Antula, who thus became the first female saint stemming from the current South American country.
The two leaders' encounter was preceded by scores of derogatory remarks from then-candidate Milei against the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires. In front of hundreds of faithful, Milei leaned over to smile and hug Francis, who attended the event in a wheelchair.
Milei, who is converting to the Jewish faith and profusely showed it during his trip to Israel en route to Rome, took communion and prayed kneeling.
For Argentine TV viewers, Milei's presence at St. Peter's Basilica had an extra feature when the narrator announced him and his wife, Presidential Secretary Karina Milei, who is -in all accuracy- the head of state's sister. Milei is in fact not married.
After Sunday's event dedicated to Mama Antula, Milei and Francis are to have a private meeting Monday, in preparation for which the Libertarian leader called the pope the most important Argentine in history after reconciliatory steps through a congratulatory phone call after the electoral triumph in November, and a latter inviting the Pontiff to visit his native land.
Pope Francis, a Jesuit and former archbishop of Buenos Aires, has not visited his native country since he was elected head of the Catholic Church in 2013, and his desire to do so this year will be one of the big questions that will hover over Monday's audience.
María Antonia de Paz y Figueroa, recently canonized after being attributed a second miracle, was a consecrated laywoman who fought to spread the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola just when the Jesuits had been expelled from the dominions of the Spanish crown by King Charles III. The Pope thanked the new Saint for that.
She traveled thousands of kilometers on foot, through deserts and dangerous roads, to bring God. Today she is for us a model of fervor and apostolic daring, the pope said in his homily.
It is a very important moment for Argentine history, Milei told reporters inside the Basilica, alongside Ministers Diana Mondino (Foreign Affairs), Guillermo Francos (Interior), and Sandra Pettovello (Human Capital).