Story By: Ana Lacasa, Sub Editor: Joseph Golder, Agency: CEN
The Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has told Pope Francis to concentrate on souls instead of urging an open door for illegal migrants to flood into the country.
His statement came after the Pope posed with a badge reading “open the ports” together with a priest who runs a centre for migrants. The picture has been interpreted as a criticism of the Italian government’s refusal to allow migrants to reach its coast.
The pontiff was pictured with priest Nandino Capovilla, who works in the town of Marghera in the commune of Venice in northern Italy running a centre to house migrants when he displayed the badge.
Picture Credit: CEN/@nandinocapovilla
In the photo, the Pope can be seen holding the badge which reads “apriamo i porti!” (‘open the ports!’) as Capovilla smiles next to him.
The picture comes as tension around the Italian government’s refusal to sign a European Union deal that would see the country take in some of the 49 migrants recently found stranded in the Mediterranean Sea for two weeks heightens.
Francisco has called for the protection of migrants coming to Europe to find a new life and the photo has been seen as a message to Italy’s Interior Minister Salvini, who has had a law passed lowering the bar for access to Italy for asylum seekers and increasing the chance of asylum being rejected.
According to local media, Capovilla approached Pope Francis after a mass celebrated in the town of Sacrofano, at the beginning of a meeting about migration that was titled “free from fear”.
Salvini responded to the photo by saying that the Pope “is in charge of souls” while he is in charge of “five million Italian poor people” on Italian television.
He added: “I open the ports for those who have permission to enter Italy.”