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The loudest opponent of Italy’s new anti-migrant policy? The Catholic Church

The loudest opponent of Italy’s new anti-migrant policy? The Catholic Church
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ROME – In a small church in central Italy, a priest told his congregation one recent Sunday morning that the motto of Italy’s highest-profile politician — “Italians First” — was antithetical to Christianity itself. Farther north, another parish priest said that supporters of the country’s new governing hard-line anti-migrant party “cannot call themselves Christian.” On the island of Sicily, an archbishop speaking in a public square took an even broader swipe, criticizing politicians who drive “their own miserable success” by exploiting fear about migrants.

“The church can’t stay silent,” the archbishop of Palermo, Corrado Lorefice, said during that speech, which marked a local holiday. “I can’t stay silent.”

As Italy’s migration politics swing to the right, the Catholic Church is responding with an oppositional roar.

Pope Francis, during the five years of his papacy, has spoken about the humanity and rights of migrants, cautioning about the anti-immigrant sentiment taking hold in parts of the developed world. But those warnings only recently turned into a clarion in the very backyard of the Roman Catholic Church, where one of the world’s most Catholic nations has ushered in a populist government that pledges to “stop the invasion” and tighten its doors.

In recent weeks, church leaders of all kinds — figures close to Francis and priests speaking on quiet Sundays — have struck back against what they describe as a xenophobic and fear-driven response to the wave of refugees and economic migrants who have reached Italian shores. Their voices have stood in relief against a political landscape where few others, even in Italian opposition parties, are delivering that message.

It s really unprecedented that the official voices of the Catholic Church are so squarely opposed

“It’s really unprecedented that the official voices of the Catholic Church are so squarely opposed” to an Italian government, said Massimo Faggioli, a Villanova University professor who studies Catholicism and European politics. “That hasn’t happened before. The Catholic Church is the opposition, basically.”

But some of those outspoken church leaders also describe a jolt of alarm, and say that the rise of anti-migrant movements here and in several other predominantly Catholic countries, including Poland and Austria, shows sharp divisions within the faith over how welcoming to be. The dominant figure in Italy’s new government is Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who swears by the Gospel, sometimes brandishes rosary beads, and describes undocumented immigrants as a “tide of delinquents” whom he wants to send home.
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