Why Pope Francis Is In No Rush to Visit His Homeland

Pope Francis approaches priests with an Argentine flag as he arrives in St. Peter’s Square for his inaugural Mass at the Vatican on March 19, 2013. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

The Polish pope, St. John Paul II, made nine visits to his country of birth, the first in 1979, less than a year after his election.

His successor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, went to his native Germany three times, including on his first international trip.

And the first Argentine pontiff? Francis hasn’t been back once since he became pope four years ago.

It’s not as though there haven’t been good reasons to come. Last year was the bicentennial of Argentine independence from Spain. There was also the beatification of Blessed Maria Antonia de Paz y Figueroa, an Argentine nun affectionately known as Mama Antula, and the canonization of the “Gaucho Priest,” St. Jose Gabriel Brochero.

“You don’t know how much I want to come back and see you,” the pope said in a video addressed to the Argentine people last September, adding that he had hoped to return to preside over those events.

But he surprised many by saying he also wouldn’t be able to return this year either because “there are already commitments” for trips to Asia and Africa.

“The world is bigger than Argentina,” he reminded them.

Although the pope felt compelled to apologize for his no-show, it’s also no exaggeration to say there’s no clamor for a visit.

In fact, many people attending a Mass last Ash Wednesday at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Tigre, a suburb of Buenos Aires, appreciated his absence.

“I don’t mind, and in fact I am grateful to him (for staying away) because it would be used politically,” said Leonor, a 73-year-old retiree who wouldn’t give her last name.

Some people expected a stop in Argentina when Francis traveled to Paraguay and Bolivia in 2015. But at the time, the election campaign for who would succeed former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was in full swing.

And this year, the nation is caught up in campaigning for legislative elections scheduled for October.

“Clearly the political situation in our country is not conducive to a papal visit,” said 78-year-old retiree Juan Parmaggiani on his way into the church. “I think it’s good that he doesn’t come for now.”

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Veronica Engler