Pope Francis promises to help Argentina in debt crisis, president says

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Argentine President Alberto Fernandez said Pope Francis had promised him in a meeting to do everything he could to help with his homeland's debt crisis.

Fernandez, who was sworn in last month, met Francis privately for about 45 minutes in the papal library.

"The pope is helping us a lot and I appreciate it because he is an Argentine worried about his homeland," Fernandez told reporters. "The pope is going to do everything he can to help us."

The 60-year-old centre-left president has promised to bridge social divisions and roll out a massive credit system with low rates to bolster domestic demand, and to boost spending to address hunger and poverty.

His administration has said it needs to restructure $100 billion in sovereign debt with its creditors, including the IMF, amid a steep recession and inflation of more than 50%.

Next Wednesday, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and Argentine Economy Minister Martin Guzman are due have a meeting on the debt on the sidelines of a conference at the Vatican.

A Vatican statement said Fernandez and the pope had discussed the economic crisis, poverty, corruption and drug trafficking.

Fernandez shares many of the pope's ideas on social justice and quoted the pontiff repeatedly in his inaugural address last month.

In the public part of the meeting, Francis asked him to be "a messenger of peace" in their common homeland.

Francis has not visited Argentina since becoming Latin America's first pope in 2013. Fernandez said he there was no need to issue a formal invitation because the pope could go home whenever he wanted.

Perhaps as a nudge to return, Fernandez gave him two coffee table books about the most famous cafes of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Kevin Liffey)