Catholics criticise Salvini for flaunting Christian symbols at rally


Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini faced criticism from Catholic circles on Sunday after he wielded Christian symbols at a flagship rally with fellow European far-righters. The event, held near the landmark Milan Cathedral, brought together anti-immigration, anti-Islam populists campaigning for May 23-26 European Parliament elections.

During his closing speech, Salvini clutched a rosary and invoked the Virgin Mary after paying his respects to a number of Christian saints and former popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. When he mentioned Pope Francis – an advocate of open door migration policies that Salvini vehemently opposes – there were boos from the crowd.

Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin, who is effectively Francis' deputy, gave a veiled reproach of Salvini's antics in Sunday comments to reporters.

"I believe that politics is divisive, whereas God belongs to everybody. To claim God for yourself is always very dangerous," Parolin was quoted as saying by ANSA news agency.

Famiglia Cristiana, a Catholic weekly aligned with Francis' relatively liberal papacy, accused Salvini of "sovereignist feticism" in his exploitation of religious symbols "to justify the systematic breach of human rights" via restrictive migration policies.

Father Antonio Spadaro, editor of the Civilta Cattolica Jesuit magazine and a confidant of Francis, expressed reservations on Twitter for politicians who "brandish and wield what belongs to God."

True to character, Salvini was unrepentant.

"I am the last among good Christians, but I am proud to always have a rosary in my pocket," he said.    (dpa)

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