By January next year, the Pope will have visited nearly every country in South America – apart from his homeland
The Vatican has just announced the first overseas trip that Pope Francis will make in 2018. In the January of that year, he is going to Chile and Peru. In Chile, he will visit the capital, Santiago, as well as the cities of Iquique (in the far north of the country) and Temuco (in the south). In Peru, he will take in the capital Lima, as well as the cities of Puerto Maldonado and Trujillo.
This coming September he is going to Colombia. Thus, by this coming January, he will have visited most of the countries in Latin America, having taken in Brazil in 2013, Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay in 2014, Cuba in 2015 and Mexico in 2016.
All those visits have been of great interest. He was in Brazil for World Youth Day, which supposedly saw the biggest ever gathering for a Mass in history on Copacabana beach. In Bolivia, he met with the controversial president Evo Morales, who gave him the hammer and sickle crucifix. In Cuba, he met with Fidel Castro. In Mexico, he castigated the bishops for “living like princes”, which did not go down well.
The Pope still has to visit the countries of Central America, and the much-troubled country of Venezuela, which is probably in too much turmoil at present to receive any sort of visit. And he still has to visit Argentina, his homeland. Given that Argentina borders Chile, this surprising omission has drawn comment.
The Pope’s only surviving sibling, his sister Maria Elena, who is twelve years his junior, lives in Buenos Aires and is believed not to have seen him since he became Pope. On the other hand, the Pope is reputed not to be a fervent admirer of President Macri of Argentina, and there have been rumours that the two men do not get on personally or politically.
The politics of Argentina are pretty complex, to say the least, and where Pope Francis stands with regard to the various strands of Peronism is hard to determine. Pope Francis often clashed with President Kirchner, Macri’s predecessor, though later their relations seemed to have warmed. This is surprising, given Mrs Kirchner’s record on human rights, as well as her belligerence over the Falkland Islands. By contrast, President Macri is not a Peronist.
Is the Pope holding off from visiting Argentina until a new president is in power? Or is it possible, that having taken the trouble to renew his Argentine passport back in 2014, Francis is saving his return to his native land for the moment when he retires from the papacy and comes home for good, not as Pope but as a private citizen once more? Given his well-known love of surprises, I would not put that past him.
By Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith