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Argentines Fading Love for Pope Francis: What Happened to the Initial Fervor?

by Sophia Chen
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When Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina was elected as Pope Francis, it made people in his homeland feel so happy that it almost felt like they had won a soccer championship. However, now 10 years later, not everyone agrees and the enthusiasm has died down. In 2013, Pope Francis left Argentina and never returned to attend the conclave which officially chose him as pope. He still likes listening to tango music though.

Recently, an Argentine journalist named Sergio Rubin wrote a book called “El Pastor” about Pope Francis. This book included interviews with the pope himself. But according to Rubin and some other experts, it seems like Pope Francis wants to stay away from his home country’s politics due to all the fighting between different people that has been going on for the past 20 years.

According to Rubin, who works for the Clarín newspaper in Argentina, there is a ninety percent chance that Francis won’t come back home. This is because there are reports from the Holy See’s Secretariat of State which suggest that doing so could cause a lot of troubles.

Francis is right at the middle of an ongoing argument between people who support the ideas and policies of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who was President from 2007 to 2015, and people who are on the side of former President Mauricio Macri (in office from 2015-2019). Both leaders were part of two different sides -the center-left parties who follow Peronism and the center-right party.

An image in 2016 showed Pope Francis looking angry when he met Argentina’s President, Macri. This photo quickly spread online and it made people think Pope Francis didn’t like how Macri was running things. According to analysts, this caused his popularity to go down in his home country of Argentina. Political consultant Sergio Berenzstein said that Francis is seen as controversial by some conservative people in Argentina.

Berenzstein said that some people never understood how the pope changed his attitude towards former president Fernández in 2013. This was different compared to when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and had a very unfriendly relationship with her government.

The pope’s views of the political leaders in Argentina have been changing over time. For example, he has stopped talking completely to some and still talks to others. This change got bigger at the end of 2020 when abortion was legalized under President Alberto Fernández, who is part of the Peronist group.

The pope recently shared a message that criticized an economic system that values money more than people. Some in Argentina think this message is showing support for Peronism – a social movement started by Juan Domingo Perón to fight for justice.

Miguel Angel Pichetto, an ally of Macri from the opposition coalition, recently said that Pope Francis’s social ideas do not fit well in Argentina. He stated that the pope is against ‘neoliberalism’ (which refers to a type of economic system) and believes it’s okay for people to have fewer rights over their private property.

Javier Milei, a politician who is high in the polls for this year’s election and has accused the pope of supporting communism, recently said something mean to the pontiff. Mr. Milei tweeted that the pope is “always standing on the side of evil” because he suggested people should pay taxes to help poor people keep their dignity.

A recent survey in Argentina asked people to express their thoughts on Pope Francis. Only 27% said they thought of him as a leader who stands up against unfairness, while 40% said they were not really interested in him, and the remaining 27% claimed he was too focused on politics.

When Pope Francis was elected in 2013, people in Buenos Aires drove around honking their car horns to celebrate and there was a special Mass held at the Cathedral.

According to Roberto Bacman from the Center for Public Opinion Studies, Pope Francis’ popularity has gone down from 85 percent recognition when he first started his job as pope to 72 percent two years ago.

María de los Ángeles López, a Catholic person in Argentina, said she was very sad. She hoped that having an Argentinian pope would improve their country but it is worse now than ever before. There is more poverty and crime and people are more divided than ever. Instead of helping unite everyone, the Argentine pope made things even harder.

People close to Pope Francis said he doesn’t visit Argentina as much because of other important priorities. His Niece José Bergoglio said we should understand the Pope’s role is not just for Argentina people.

Alicia Barrios, a journalist and a friend of the Pope shared his thoughts which was mainly about Russia’s invasion into Ukraine. She said he has no time for Argentina because there are other countries that are in greater need of him.

In his speech called “El Pastor”, the Pope has said that it isn’t fair to say that he doesn’t want to visit Argentina. He also follows what is happening in his home country. In an interview this year, the Pope criticised ‘bad management’ and ‘bad policies’, as these have caused costs of living to rise by a 100% and poverty rate at around 40%.

Francis has friends in not-so-wealthy communities who are priests, like Father José “Pepe” Di Paola. According to Di Paola, Francis isn’t distant from them and is actually very popular in these poorer neighbourhoods – they love him! This Saturday, some religious leaders are planning an event to celebrate the ten years of Francis being a pope.

Di Paola said this special day should be celebrated with Argentine flags, like the World Cup. We all cheered when Argentina won their soccer championship in Qatar last year! Everyone was so happy and we were hugging- people didn’t care about their religion, political party or beliefs. It must be the same now- a celebration full of joy and happiness.

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