di Mario Primerano
Vatican City, April 24 - Pope Francis on Wednesday spoke to one of the leading members of an association of Argentine mothers whose children were killed during the Dirty War waged by his home country's military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. Francis stopped and spoke for two minutes to Estela de Carlotto, a grandmother in the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo group who take their name from the Buenos Aires square where they have been protesting for decades. Francis and Estela smiled and clasped hands before the pontiff ended the conversation by kissing her on the head. The elderly lady handed the pope a white envelope. On April 18 Francis spoke out for the first time in his pontificate about the forced disappearances during the Dirty War. Speaking on behalf of the pope, Antoine Camilleri, Vatican undersecretary for relations with states, said the pope "shared the pain of many mothers in that moment of Argentine history". The response came just over a month after the pope, former archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected and received a letter days later from the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. That letter, signed by the militant leader of the group Hebe de Bonafini, expressed how struck she was by the large amount of testimonies from people living in the poorest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires about their friendship with Bergoglio. After initial skepticism about the pope, Bonafini expressed a change of heart, while vowing nevertheless to send Francis a list of the priests and bishops who were secretly abducted or killed. Recalling the pain of those who "suffered, and are still suffering, from the tragic loss" of loved ones in those years, the pope in his response asked God to grant "the strength to fight for the eradication of poverty in the world". Since his election on March 13, allegations have surfaced that the pope was complicit with the junta during the Dirty War, when he was still a priest, which the Vatican has been quick to deny. The claims were also largely discredited by Argentine Nobel Peace laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who said Francis had no connections with the dictatorship.