ROME (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Sunday that the Argentine people were suffering and that he hoped to make his first trip back to his homeland in the second half of this year.
On Thursday, Argentine President Javier Milei’s office said he had invited Francis, 87, to visit, appearing to extend an olive branch after attacking the Catholic leader in recent years.
“Yes, I’m worried because people are suffering a lot. It’s a difficult moment for the country,” he responded to a question about Argentina during an interview with a television program on Sunday evening Italian.
Argentina is facing its worst economic crisis in decades and Milei said there was no alternative to a brutal and painful fiscal shock to remedy the situation.
After taking office in December, Milei, who once called the pope an “imbecile,” unveiled a series of economic measures intended to lift Argentina out of triple-digit inflation, growing poverty and of a shortage of reserves.
“There is a possibility of making a trip in the second part of the year. There has been a change of government, there is something new,” Francis said.
He indicated that a possible trip to Argentina would take place after August, while he plans to visit some countries in Polynesia.
“After that, the trip to Argentina, if it can be done, but I would like to go there. It’s been 10 years. I think I can go there,” he said in a video link from his residence in Vatican with the popular Italian Channel 9 show. “Che Tempo Che Fa”.
Before deciding to run for president, Milei, a former television commentator, launched a series of attacks against the pope, calling him a “fool who defends social justice” and a “representative of evil on Earth “.
In September, priests from poor neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, where the pope was born and where he was also archbishop, celebrated a Mass to defend Francis and condemn Milei’s attacks against him.
Francis and Milei spoke on the phone in November, after Milei was elected.
Francis has made more than 40 trips outside Italy, including many to Latin America, since his election nearly 11 years ago as the first Latin American pontiff, but he has yet to visit Argentina.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Diane Craft)
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