Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has been criticised by Italian bishops because of his firm stance against migrants even though Salvini is currently the most trusted politician in the country by a significant margin.
The leader of Italy’s League Party enjoys the trust of a remarkable 56 percent of citizens, according to a poll. While the new government has a 51 percent public trust rating, Salvini topped the list at 56 percent.
This did not stop Italian clergymen from attacking Salvini from the pulpit.
“It is Jesus coming to us on a vessel, he is in the man or child who drowns, it is Jesus who fishes through the garbage in search of a little food,” Cardinal Francesco Montenegro, archbishop of Agrigento, declared about the influx of migrants from Libya at the beginning of the month.
“Immigrants, the poor, are a thermometer for our faith,” he continued. “Not welcoming them, especially closing our hearts to them, means not believing in God.” He reprimanded ordinary Italians for their “callousness and indifference”.
But Italian Catholics say there is nothing in Catholic doctrine about open borders or relinquishing national sovereignty.
While Cardinal Montenegro was delivering his sermon in Sicily last Sunday, a parish priest in the central Italian province of Teramo, Father Federico Pompei criticised Matteo Salvini by name. But his homily provoked an unexpected backlash.
Most of his audience got up and walked out of Mass as the priest tried to incite the faithful against Salvini’s immigration policies. Some of them later spoke with local news outlets about the need for the Church to stay out of politics.
“We are all equal, the Church says,” one elderly man told reporters. “But it’s not like that … first come the others, and then the Italians. I never voted for the League but during the next elections I will do so gladly, because now it’s time to think about the Italians.”
“It’s a shame that a parish priest plays politics in Church during Holy Mass,” said another woman visiting from northern Italy. “He should have just said that we need to help our neighbour and left it at that. What’s the point of calling out Salvini?”
A bishop who had dared to allow Salvini to speak in one of his parishes was crucified by the “tolerant” mainstream media.
Pope Francis on Friday presided over a Mass for migrants in St Peter’s Basilica marking the fifth anniversary of his visit to Lampedusa, the Italian island that has been the primary destination of migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa.
“God needs our eyes to see the needs of brothers and sisters… He needs our hands to rescue,” the Pope said. “Confronted with today’s migration challenges, the only sensible answer is that of solidarity and mercy”.
The pontiff thanked those who carry out rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, including officials who attended the Mass Friday, including from Spain, for “simply deciding to take responsibility” and saving lives.
Salvini has been engaged for years in a continuous polemic against the Vatican – and especially with Pope Bergoglio – for his pro-immigrantion stance and solidarity with the “poorest”.