Pope and Milei meet as Argentina gains first female saint

Argentina’s first female saint was canonized on Sunday, marking a historic event that brought together Pope Francis and President Javier Milei for the first time. Despite Milei’s past criticism of the Pope, including calling him an “imbecile” and accusing him of promoting communism, he attended the Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and later met and hugged the 87-year-old pontiff. They are scheduled to have a private audience on Monday.

The saint, María Antonia de Paz y Figueroa, also known as Mama Antula, was an 18th-century laywoman celebrated for her dedication to the poor and for sustaining the Jesuit movement in Argentina after it was suppressed. Described by Pope Francis as a “gift to the Argentine people and the entire Church,” Mama Antula is also recognized as an early feminist figure in Argentina.

The meeting between Milei and Pope Francis occurs amidst significant political turmoil in Argentina, marked by soaring inflation and widespread poverty. Milei, a libertarian president who assumed office in December, has proposed controversial economic policies, including deep spending cuts, currency devaluation, and the removal of government subsidies on essential goods. He advocates for “economic shock therapy” to address the country’s severe economic crisis, which he considers the worst in decades.

Milei has extended an invitation to Pope Francis to visit Argentina in 2024, although the pontiff, who hails from Buenos Aires, has not visited his home country since assuming the papacy in 2013. The convergence of political and religious leaders underscores the complex challenges facing Argentina and the potential role of faith and leadership in navigating them.

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