Pope to stay away from homeland during South American visit

Pope to stay away from homeland during South American visit

Pope Francis' homeland of Argentina is not on the itinerary for his South American tour in July.

The pontiff hasn't been back since he became pope more than two years ago, and the Vatican says he doesn't want to influence October's presidential election by visiting now.
Francis has complained in recent months that he has felt "used" by Argentine politicians who take their picture with him in Rome.

Instead, the pontiff will tour Ecuador and two countries that border Argentina: Bolivia and Paraguay.

Although he will stay away, Francis nevertheless intensely follows what happens where he was born and spent most of his life before becoming world leader of the Roman Catholic Church, according to local journalists who have covered him for years, friends in the country and Vatican officials.

"This is a pope who is very interested in politics and has considerable political sensibility," said Mariano De Vedia, political editor for the Argentine newspaper La Nacion and author of "In the Name of the Father," a book that examines Francis' rocky relationship with President Cristina Fernandez and her predecessor and late husband, Nestor Kirchner.

Much of what Francis says and does has an impact in Argentina, a majority Catholic nation of 41 million people where the church wields great influence.

He has promised to open church files from Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship a potential Pandora's box that could spark more lawsuits and arrests related to the estimated 30,000 people killed or disappeared during the "dirty war."

Francis made headlines early this year by lamenting that a growing drug trade in Argentina could lead to a "Mexicanization" of the country. Many interpreted those comments as a scathing critique of Fernandez and her party, which has held power since 2003.

Earlier this month, he received Fernandez at the Vatican for the fourth time, drawing the ire of some opposition leaders.

"Don't disappointment me, Francisco!" Elisa Carrio, an opposition congresswoman and aspiring presidential contender, posted to her Facebook page during his last meeting with Fernandez. "Make good on your promise not to get involved in politics."

The Vatican defended the meeting by saying that Fernandez, constitutionally barred from running for a third term, was not a candidate. Guillermo Karcher, the Vatican's protocol chief and a fellow Argentine, told local media that the nearly two-hour meeting focused on Argentina but did not touch on the August primaries leading up to the October general vote.

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