President Laura Chinchilla visited Vatican City celebrity Pope Francis on Friday morning. Cool guy Pope Francis told Chinchilla to “be at home” when they met in the private library of the Apostolic Palace. During their meeting, Chinchilla presented the Catholic leader with a papal stole designed by Tico artisans. She also invited the Argentine Jesuit to travel some day to Costa Rica.
Francis has received sumptuous praised for attempting to bring the Catholic Church into the 21st century. The pope even has his own Twitter account, but the “people’s pope” has shown acumen for reaching out beyond simply maintaining a presence on the web. His few vocal detractors (so far) seem to be limited to staunch conservatives.
Francis, whose birth name is Jorge Bergoglio, has said he believes the church has become “obsessed” with issues like gay rights, abortion and sex education. The pope has pushed to welcome gays, divorcees and women into the church. He’s rejected lavish lifestyles (even punishing the so-called The Bishop of Bling for living it up too much) to focus on helping the poor. Earlier this week, a photo showing the pope embracing a disfigured man received widespread attention.
Although this is the second pope that Chinchilla has met during her presidency (she met Benedict XVI in May 2012, 10 months before he resigned as the Catholic leader), a pope hasn’t visited Costa Rica since 1983 when Pope John Paul II came to the Catholic country. However, the progressive pope already might be influencing the local church.
In the fall, Costa Rica’s Catholic Church released its own voters guide to the upcoming presidential election. This year’s guide chose to focus on vetting candidates who work to save the environment. The guide avoided direct mention of in vitro fertilization, gay rights and abortion (though much was implied). Costa Rica remains one of the few countries in the world to maintain a ban on IVF, even though an International Human Rights Court has tried to force the government to legalize the practice.In 2011, the church equated in vitro fertilization to murder.
Perhaps the pope’s radical belief of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” can help modernize Costa Rica’s Catholic church – an institution that in the past decade has watched many Ticos turn away from it.
Matt Levin is a correspondent for The Tico Times