An already tense relationship between the world's two most powerful Argentines became more so recently when the pope rejected a sizable charitable donation to an organization he backs from Argentina's president, Mauricio Macri. The reason? In addition to possible concerns over the donation's political overtones, a communication from the pope to the office of the nonprofit, according to the Vatican Insider, had a postscript: "I don't like the 666."
The proposed amount of the donation was 16,666,000 Argentine pesos, or about $1.2 million to Scholas Occurentes. The strange specificity of the sum, which contains the number many superstitiously believe can invoke the Antichrist, left some wondering whether the donation was really a troll of presidential proportions.
Macri and the pope, who used to be the archbishop of Buenos Aires, hold differing views on matters of policy, especially the austerity measures that center-right Macri has introduced to stave off critical levels of inflation. An article recounting Macri's trip to the Vatican in February was headlined "Pope gives Macri a frosty 22 minutes."
“Good morning, Mr. President. How are you doing?” the pope apparently asked Macri — one imagines with pursed lips and a quick handshake. Macri answered equally curtly: “How are you doing, Francis? Pleased to see you.”
The pope went on to urge Macri to focus more on poverty reduction. He then gifted Macri a crucifix, a poncho and a few CDs. Argentine media reports that their relationship began to sour when Macri, as mayor of Buenos Aires, refused to appeal a court order green-lighting same-sex marriage in the city in 2009. The pope has also spoken out against what he sees as sweatshops in the country, some of which have been linked to business interests of Macri's wife, Juliana Awada.
As for the tiff over the donation, an official from Macri's office told La Nación that "the sum was calculated based on the expenditures of the organization's headquarters in Buenos Aires, on the salaries of 36 employees, and on equipment and maintenance expenses relating to a building of the former Administration of State Property. It was specifically asked for by them, so we are very surprised by what happened afterwards and that the Pope was not informed."
Scholas Occurentes is a global education initiative aimed specifically at sports, technology and arts, and is modeled on a similar outfit founded by the pope before he left Argentina.