The radical ex-president of Argentina, Raul Ricardo Alfonsin, who died Monday after a long illness, asked to receive the Sacraments of the Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation before dying, despite the tense relationship his government maintained with the Catholic Church.
According to the AICA news agency, on Monday morning Alfonsin was visited by Bishop Justo Oscar Laguna, who told reporters afterwards that the former president "wouldn’t let go" of his hand during the brief moment they met.
Bishop Laguna said he gave Alfonsin "a blessing" and that in December he was asked to administer the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick to the former president.
The bishop said that Alfonsin was "very ill, but alert. I was getting ready to leave when he grabbed my hand and kissed my ring. I kissed him on the forehead and I wept," the bishop said.
Bishop Laguna hadn’t met the ex-president until after the elections of 1983, when he was asked by the Vatican to help resolve the Beagle conflict with Chile. He said Alfonsin, who was the first democratically elected president after the fall of the military regime in Argentina, "bore the sufferings of his illness with extraordinary serenity." Alfonsin will be buried at the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires.
Although his election marked the restoration of democracy in Argentina, as a democratic socialist, Alfonsin’s administration often clashed with the Church, such as when it eased the country’s laws on divorce.