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Pope Francis meets Argentine president, smooths tensions

March 18, 2013|By Henry Chu
  • Pope Francis meets Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner on Monday in Vatican City.
Pope Francis meets Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner… (L'Osservatore Romano /…)

ROME – He called her policies an “attack on God’s plan.” She described him as “medieval.”

But Pope Francis and President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the leader of his native Argentina, kissed and made up Monday – literally – at a private meeting at the Vatican.

“Never in my life has a pope kissed me!” Fernandez exclaimed after the encounter, during which she presented the pope with her own token of reconciliation: a mate gourd, which he can use to drink traditional Argentine tea.

Fernandez was the first world leader to meet the new pontiff, who before his elevation last week was known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires. Dozens more heads of government and heads of state are due to attend his official installation Tuesday, a ceremony that organizers say could draw as many as a million people to the Vatican. Vice President Joe Biden will represent the United States.

Details of what was said between Francis and Fernandez were not released by the Vatican, but Fernandez told reporters that she asked the pope to step into the dispute over the Falkland Islands, which are governed by Britain but also claimed by Argentina. The two countries went to war over the islands in 1982; Argentina lost.

“We want a dialogue, and that’s why we asked the pope to intervene so that the dialogue is successful,” Fernandez said.

There was no word on the pope’s response.

The two have had a tense relationship. As archbishop, Bergoglio attacked the government of Fernandez for not doing enough to help the poor. Bergoglio also opposed legalization of same-sex marriage in Argentina – the only Latin American country to allow it – as an offense against God.

Fernandez lashed back by comparing the archbishop to someone out of the Inquisition. She also now skips an annual address by the church in Argentina at which, by tradition, politicians and civic society are exhorted to do better.

Her comments congratulating Francis after his election as pope were seen as tepid. But Fernandez is also aware that her country is predominantly Roman Catholic and that many Argentines are excited about one of their own becoming the leader of the worldwide church.

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