VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis asked his fellow countryman, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez, to be a “messenger of peace” during the South American official’s brief visit to the Vatican City on Friday.
The day which began with a Mass inside St. Peter’s tomb in the Vatican’s Basilica for the Argentine delegation, officiated by a third Argentine, Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, who asked for success for Argentina’s new government.
The pope and president met in the Tronetto Room, where they exchanged pleasantries and handshakes.
Whilst heading to the Library for their meeting, Fernandez invited the Pope to enter first, to which he responded with a joke: “No, first the altar boy,” as this is custom during processions at the start of Mass.
The private audience lasted 45 minutes, and among the topics discussed were the economic-financial crisis, the fight against poverty, corruption and drug trafficking and social issues in Argentina.
At a press conference following his first audience with the pontiff, Fernandez said the meeting with his compatriot was very pleasant and comfortable.
“The Pope is already helping us a lot... I value this help very much but I really value him, because he is an Argentine who is concerned about his country... and concerned about his people because all of this debt has brought poverty and marginalization,” the president added.
During the press conference, Fernandez noted that they did not speak about the pope visiting Argentina, as he did not want to put any pressure on the pope.
He added the pontiff “knows that he has his home and when he wants to come we will receive him as one of the greatest moral leaders” and “with joy and all the love we have.”
Their discussion was followed by the traditional exchanging of gifts and then the presentation of the delegation took place.
Fernandez presented his compatriot with a sculpture of the slave Manuel Costa de los Rios, also known as “Negro Manuel,” who is said to be the first person to see the Virgin of Lujan, according to Catholic tradition.
In addition, he gifted the pope with two books about Buenos Aires cafes, where Jorge Bergoglio used to drink coffee when he was the Archbishop of the capital.
The president also presented a calendar as well as fabric made on an artisan loom by young people from the Civil Andar Association.
For his part, the pope gifted president Fernandez with a bronze sculpture of a vine with grapes, on which a dove rests, and engraved with the words: “Be Messengers of Peace.”
It was in this moment that the pope addressed the president and his wife, Fabiola Yañez, and told them: “Be messengers of peace. This is what I want for you, to be messengers of peace.”
Francis also gave away some of the documents written during his pontificate.
As another message of peace, he read St. Thomas More’s Prayer of Good Humor.
Fernandez asked Francis to dedicate one of the volumes to him, to which the pope agreed and wrote him a message.
The president introduced the Pope to his delegation, which was composed of Foreign Minister Felipe Sola, the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Marcela Losardo, the secretaries of Worship, Guillermo Oliveri; the secretaries of Strategic Affairs, Gustavo Beliz; and the secretary for Communications and Press, Juan Pablo Biondi.
The Argentinian president then held a meeting with the Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin.