March 6, 2018 / 4:51 PM / 4 months ago

Vatican signals its concern over populist rise in Italy elections

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican on Tuesday signalled its concern over the results of Italy’s national election, which saw sharp gains for populist and anti-immigrant parties.

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis talks to Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, as they arrive at the Cathedral San Juan Apostol y Evangelista in Lima, Peru, January 21, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

The biggest winners were the League — the largest party in a centre-right grouping that employed the most fiery anti-migrant rhetoric during the campaign — and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, was asked on the sidelines of a conference on immigration if the Holy See was worried about the results.

“The Holy See has to work in whatever conditions arise. We can’t (always) have the society that we would like to have, or the conditions that we would like to have,” he told the Catholic news agency SIR.

It was the Vatican’s first public reaction to the results and its most authoritative because Parolin, its top diplomat, ranks second only to Pope Francis in the Holy See’s hierarchy.

During the campaign, League leader Matteo Salvini clashed with the pope several times over immigration.

When Francis backed a proposed law that would have granted Italian citizenship to children born in Italy of immigrant parents — something the League vehemently opposed — Salvini said Francis could house the children in the Vatican if he wanted to.

Political squabbling blocked discussion of the law before parliament was dissolved ahead of the elections.

Salvini also criticised the pope for promoting dialogue with Islam. Many of the Africans who made the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean to reach Italy are Muslim.

Parolin said at the conference that the Vatican realised that the election results meant it would have to continue “a work of education” about the dignity and rights of immigrants.

Surveys show Italians are increasingly uneasy after more than 600,000 migrants reached Italy by boat in four years. Last month, a neo-Nazi wounded six migrants in a shooting spree in central Italy.

“Citizens must feel safe and protected but at the same time we can’t slam doors in the faces of people who are fleeing violence and threats,” Parolin said.

The pope, who was born in Argentina of Italian immigrant stock, has championed the cause of migrants since taking office in 2013.

Last year he called for a radical change of attitude towards immigrants, saying they should be welcomed with dignity and denouncing the “populist rhetoric” he said was fuelling fear and selfishness in rich countries.

The centre-right has vowed to deport hundreds of thousands of migrants if they are able to form a government. 5-Star has also vowed to step up deportations of illegal immigrants.

Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Catherine Evans

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