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Pope Francis: The photo every leader wants

Buenos Aires Governor Daniel Scioli, as well as other political leaders, visited the Pope in 2013.
By Mariano Beldyk
For The Herald

Last year, dozens of politicians from all parties visited the Holy See to meet Bergoglio

The fact that Pope Francis was a world sensation in 2013 is out of the question. Nearly 6.6 million people went on a pilgrimage to the Vatican last year, the Prefecture of the Papal Household said this week.

Among them, many Argentines and especially public figures like politicians who appeared to suddenly feel strongly enough about their faith to catch a 13-hour flight to Rome to return with their own snapshot with the popular Pope.

Kirchnerite figures, opposition allies, union leaders, business executives, actors, soccer stars and jet-set types attended many of the weekly hearings on Wednesdays or, if lucky and with enough influence, managed to be granted a private meeting with Francis in his hectic schedule.

Beginning with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner —the first head of state in the globe received by the Pope— the list alternated ruling Victory Front and opposition figures like BA City Mayor Mauricio Macri, Córdoba province Governor José Manuel de la Sota, Misiones province Governor Maurice Closs, Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli, San Isidro Mayor Gustavo Posse, BA City legislator Gustavo Vera, Victory Front congressman Juan Cabandié, Senator Fernando “Pino” Solanas, congressman Hermes Binner, Almirante Brown Mayor Darío Giustozzi, Berazategui Mayor Juan Patricio Mussi, Florencio Varela Mayor Julio Pereyra, Castelli Mayor Francisco Echarren, Salta City Mayor Miguel Angel Isa, San Salvador de Jujuy Mayor Raúl “Chuli” Jorge, General Alvarado Mayor Patricio Hogan, former senator Samuel Cabanchik, BA Province senator Patricio Hogan, San Miguel de Tucumán Mayor Domingo Amaya, among others.

Also truck-driver’s union leader Pablo Moyano met with Francis during one of his meetings along with UATRE rural-workers union chief Gerónimo “Momo” Venegas.

In his blog “La revancha de Keynes” (Keynes’ revenge) in The Huffington Post’s Spanish version, journalist Alejandro Bianchi counted 35 local celebrities —regardless of their political umbrella— who visited the pope in his first nine months of his reign.

More can be added to that list come November, including television show host and San Lorenzo soccer club vice-president Marcelo Tinelli, who presented the pontiff with a replica shirt of the “Cuervos” after they won the league. Pope Francis has never hidden the fact that he is still a San Lorenzo fan.

Remarkable figure

London-based Financial Times labeled him a week ago as a “remarkable figure”, the most “honest” leader today. And it pointed out “there are three ways in which he has been a figure of immense appeal this year to Catholics and non-Catholics alike”: his personal modesty, his standing on questions of sex and marriage and a Francis-style string of management reforms in the Holy See that allow him to implement change.

In a recent ranking published by El País daily, Pope Francis came out as the most relevant leader in the region, ahead of some of the most important South American heads of state, Chile’s president-elect Michelle Bachelet and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff.

“Pope Francis means for humanity the awakening of an extraordinary leadership for the Catholic Church destined to structurally transform the relation between believers and the religious institution in the framework of a direct, open and transparent model of communication,” Chief Cabinet Jorge Capitanich wrote in an op-ed that accompanied the publication.

In his piece, Capitanich also recalled when he first met Bergoglio during the 2001-2002 institutional meltdown in Argentina. “The Church played a key role in establishing social dialogue,” Capitanich said. Capitanich of course has also visited Francis.

The pope seemed willing to welcome Argentine visitors of all political hues. And, suddenly, the pontiff who used to be heavily criticized by national government allies when he was still Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, was something to be proud of for all political sectors.

“On Monday 18 I arrived at Santa Marta, the Vatican. I had been invited to lunch by the new pope. An Argentine in Saint Peter’s throne,” President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner recalled in her Twitter chronicle about her first encounter with Francis.

Kirchnerism’s reaction on that March 13 afternoon when Bergoglio first appeared in Saint Peter’s Basilica robed as the new pope was less emphatic in many ways. Most of its top policymakers were cautious enough to eventually reconsider their stance.

But some did not pause and criticized Bergoglio that same afternoon.

Social activist Luis D’Elía compared Bergoglio to John Paul II and his “imperialistic side to destroy the South American union.” Unexpectedly, D’Elía did not win the support of other Kirchnerites and changed his tune rapidly.

“How can Francis’ designation be something bad?! They (journalists) invented that we were angry and, as we are not, they explained that we had changed,” then Cabinet Chief Juan Manuel Abal Medina stated ironically.

In 2013 electoral year, Francis became a kind of lucky charm for the many politicians who wanted a piece of his popularity. And in 2013 midterm elections were held. If the pope’s popularity continues to boom ahead of the presidential elections in 2015 so will the sale of tickets to fly to Rome from Buenos Aires.

@Mibeldyk

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