May 20, 2013
All roads lead to Rome
On the eve of today’s papal enthronement, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Pope Francis met in what could be an olive branch towards permanent dialogue but also one extreme of a roller-coaster relationship — only time will tell. Pointing to the latter is the fact that a mere five days have sufficed to turn an initial presidential reaction best compared to a Santa Cruz glacier, coupled with an onslaught from various Kirchnerite voices as to the new Pope’s alleged complicity with the 1976-83 military dictatorship (impossible without CFK’s approval), into yesterday’s rapprochement — an ocean of difference akin to the 11,150 kilometres between here and Rome traversed by CFK to hail the Pope (after years of finding it impossible to cross 100 metres of Plaza de Mayo to meet Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as a political foe). For the sake of brevity, let us simplify the explanation to opinion polls showing up to 98 percent overjoyed by an Argentine Pope underlining the political suicide of looking this gift horse in the mouth. As CFK headed for Rome, the Pope’s detractors found the perfect excuse for changing the subject in the call for “military and popular resistance” to her government from former military president Jorge Videla (almost two years older than the pope who has just resigned due to excessive age and born in the same month as his economy minister José Martínez de Hoz, who died last weekend).
Perhaps few contrasts might seem greater than the universal spiritual leader and the nationalistic leader of an isolated Argentina but make no mistake, this new pontiff is also a politician. Much has been made of his choice of the name “Francis” as denoting a Franciscan commitment to poverty, which his quiet but staunch support for slum priests shows to be genuine, but never forget that he is a Jesuit with that order’s highly political backdrop of elitism and social radicalism alike. When Saint Ignatius Loyola founded the order during the high tide of the Protestant Reformation (with Catholicism a minority in places like Austria, Bavaria, Poland and much of France, never mind northern Europe), he saw the challenge as winning hearts and minds, as well as infiltrating the corridors of power. We need not speculate how much of this heritage Francis shares because merely being the archbishop of this metropolis for 15 years in one of the most volatile political laboratories in the world shows that he must be a politician, quite apart from his incisive sermons.
But yesterday’s meeting was a footnote — as from today, Argentina’s Pope belongs to the world.