Pope Francis was unwittingly thrust into the center of a long-running diplomatic dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom after holding a sign calling for dialogue over the Falkland Islands.
The Argentine pontiff was greeting pilgrims at the Vatican’s Paul VI audience hall when he was photographed holding a Spanish-language sign reading: “It’s time for dialogue between Argentina and the U.K. about the Falklands.”
The two countries fought a brief war in 1982 over the Falkland Islands, or Malvinas in Spanish, during which more than 900 people were killed. Although the U.K. ultimately won the war, Argentina continues to claim sovereignty over the islands, which are off its southern coast.
Francis’ inadvertent gesture of support for renewed talks between the two countries inevitably caused a stir in his home city, Buenos Aires, with Argentine President Cristina Kirchner posting the pope photograph on Twitter. So too did Argentina’s foreign ministry, writing: “Pope Francis receives the Argentina-UK pro-dialogue message.”
But the Vatican played down the significance of the moment, saying the pope had no idea what was written on the sign. “The Holy Father did not even realize he had taken this object in his hands. He has discovered this just now after seeing the photograph,” the Vatican said in a statement.
The U.K. foreign ministry was not immediately available to comment.