Priests from economically disadvantaged districts in Buenos Aires gathered for a solemn mass on Tuesday, rallying to defend their fellow Argentine, Pope Francis, in the face of scathing criticism from the radical right-wing presidential contender, Javier Milei.
Milei, an unconventional libertarian economist and political outsider, has surged in the polls ahead of the October 22nd general election, riding on a wave of discontent among voters grappling with a staggering 113% inflation rate and a severe cost-of-living crisis.
With his unapologetically brash campaign tactics and outspoken critiques of political opponents, Milei has succeeded in resonating with a segment of the electorate profoundly frustrated by the country’s economic woes. However, it is his relentless attacks on Pope Francis that have captured the attention of both supporters and detractors alike.
In a series of vitriolic diatribes, Milei has branded the revered pontiff as an “imbecile who defends social justice,” a “son of a bitch preaching communism,” and “the representative of the evil one on Earth.” These incendiary remarks have not gone unnoticed by the clergy, with Buenos Aires priest Lorenzo “Toto” De Vedia remarking on the increasing notoriety of Milei’s insults as his popularity continues to surge. “He has called Pope Francis insults like an imbecile and worse things,” De Vedia noted, providing a clear impetus for the mass held on Tuesday.
Notably, a spokesperson for Milei declined to comment on the matter, leaving the candidate’s stance on the controversy unarticulated.
Pope Francis, now 87 years old, is deeply esteemed for his modest lifestyle, a reputation forged during his tenure as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. During that period, he was known for eschewing the trappings of wealth, opting instead for public transportation and adopting a low profile while serving in impoverished neighborhoods of the city. His dedication to the marginalized and vulnerable earned him the affectionate moniker “Pope of the slums.”
The clergy members at the mass were unequivocal in their condemnation of Milei’s comments. “It is shameful for a candidate to say these things. To say that social justice is bullshit, excuse my language, when justice starts from the gospel,” remarked Priest José María “Pepe” Di Paola during the service. Some churchgoers held photographs of the beloved pontiff in their hands, a poignant testament to their unwavering support.
Pope Francis has notably refrained from returning to his homeland since ascending to the papacy a decade ago, citing the ongoing political tensions within Argentina as a significant factor. While there has been speculation about a potential visit in 2024, the outcome of the presidential election could cast uncertainty on such plans, should Milei secure the presidency.
Argentina, grappling with triple-digit inflation, a staggering 40% poverty rate, and a continually depreciating currency, finds itself mired in the throes of the worst economic crisis in recent memory. This dire economic backdrop has fanned the flames of public discontent with traditional politics, paving the way for the ascent of candidates like Milei. In the August primary vote, Milei claimed the lead with a formidable 30% of the vote, a testament to the growing appeal of his unconventional brand of politics.
As the election date approaches, the passionate defense of Pope Francis by the clergy highlights the deep divide and tensions within Argentine society, where economic hardships have contributed to the rise of political outsiders.
The outcome of the October 22nd election remains uncertain, but the impact of Milei’s populist rhetoric and unconventional campaign strategies will undoubtedly leave a lasting imprint on the nation’s political landscape.