Italy may be the spiritual home of 1.2 billion members of the Catholic Church around the world, but a new poll shows only 50 percent of Italians consider themselves Catholic. The poll, published in the liberal daily L’Unita on March 29, challenges long-held perceptions that Italy is a “Catholic” country, despite the popularity of Pope Francis and the historic role of the Vatican City State in the heart of Rome.
An Italian bishop has clashed with a pair of priests who want to invite Muslims to pray inside their churches in a bid to promote tolerance in a diocese in Tuscany.
“The deserved, necessary and respectful welcome of people who practice other faiths and religions does not mean offering them space for prayers inside churches designed for liturgy and the gathering of Christian communities,” Bishop Fausto Tardelli of Pistoia said in a statement reported on March 19.
Italy must pay compensation to an Egyptian imam’s family after a European court ruled his human rights had been breached in a C.I.A. operation that had him abducted in Milan and sent to his country of birth where he was tortured. The European Court of Human Rights ordered Italy to pay a total of 115,000 euros ($126,500) in damages and legal expenses to Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr and his family.
Pope Francis made a whirlwind trip to Tuscany on Nov. 10, during which he addressed immigrant workers, called on Italian bishops to shun power, and celebrated Mass with thousands of followers in Florence’s soccer stadium.
Francis started his packed, daylong schedule with a helicopter flight to Prato, known for its textile industry and large Chinese community. Crowds waving the Vatican’s yellow and white flag met him on his arrival.
The pope called for an end to labor exploitation, addressing the deaths of seven Chinese workers in a nighttime factory fire in 2013.
“It is a tragedy of exploitation and of inhumane conditions of life. And this is not undignified work,” he said.
Sitting outside the central train station here in eastern Sicily, a 16-year-old who would only give his name as “Simon” hunched his knees up to his chest and wrapped himself up into a ball. With little spoken English, the teenager from Eritrea has taken to miming the way he traveled across the Mediterranean.
He was one of around 325 migrants crammed into an overcrowded boat that left Libya earlier this month, only to lose power a few hours into the journey.
The Italian government is on high alert after threats from the Islamic State called Italy “the nation signed with the blood of the cross.”
Italy is one of a handful of major Western counties that has not been victim of a large-scale terror assault since the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S.
Italian officials fear extremists could enter the country amid the growing tide of refugees arriving by boat from North Africa. About 500 extra troops have been stationed to guard symbolic targets in Rome and monitor the streets of the capital for suspicious activity.
The video threat, released with images of 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt who were beheaded this month, warned that Islamic State forces were “south of Rome,” in Libya. At its closest point, Libya is little more than 100 miles from the Italian islands of Sicily and Sardinia.
This comes four months after the Islamic State’s propaganda magazine Dabiq ran a cover photo of the militant group’s flag flying above the obelisk in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican with the headline: “The failed crusade.”
Half a dozen men stand nonchalantly in front of a grubby building on one of Rome’s busiest streets as cars whizz past. They stiffen whenever a stranger approaches.
But few would guess they’re undercover cops protecting Italy’s most endangered man.
Inside is the Rev. Luigi Ciotti, a 69-year-old priest with soft brown eyes and silver hair who has spent the past 20 years fighting the Italian Mafia.
He runs an organization called Libera, which means free. It’s become a household name because of its efforts to fight criminal organizations, to support victims and to redevelop land confiscated from mob bosses.
Yet Ciotti says there is still a lot more to be done.
“I dream of a country where every person, every citizen wants to assume their responsibility. On that day the Mafia and corruption will cease to exist,” he said in an interview.
Ciotti has had police escorts before, but when a notorious Sicilian boss named Toto Riina issued a death threat from his jail cell a couple of months ago, the authorities immediately doubled Ciotti’s protection.
Italian officials on Tuesday moved to expel a Moroccan imam who was caught on video inciting violence against Jews during Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.
Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said he had ordered the imam, Raoudi Aldelbar, to be expelled “for seriously disturbing the peace, endangering national security, and religious discrimination.”
The imam was filmed during a Friday sermon in a mosque near Venice last month calling for Jews to be killed “one by one,” according to the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute, which published the video on its website.
“Oh Allah, count them one by one and kill them all,” the imam allegedly preached during the service at the mosque in the northern city of San Dona di Piave.
After the video was aired in Italy by the center-right daily, Libero, Alfano said: “Uttering anti-Semitic sermons that explicitly incite violence and sectarian hatred is unacceptable. May my decision in this case be a warning to all those who think you can preach hatred in Italy.”
The government’s decision drew widespread support across the political spectrum and from the Muslim community in the Veneto region, where the imam is based.
Pope Francis sought forgiveness for decades of persecution of Italian Pentecostals when he met with around 300 evangelicals from the U.S., Argentina, and Italy in the southern town of Caserta on Monday.
The pope made his second visit in as many days to the Mafia stronghold near Naples, this time to meet evangelical pastor Giovanni Traettino, whom he befriended while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.
During the visit, Francis apologized for the persecution suffered by Pentecostals under Italy’s fascist regime in the 1920s and 1930s and urged Christians to celebrate their diversity and unity.
“Catholics were among those who persecuted and denounced the Pentecostals, almost as if they were crazy,” Francis said.
“I am the shepherd of the Catholics and I ask you to forgive my Catholic brothers and sisters who did not understand and were tempted by the devil.”
Since his election last year, the pope has been reaching out to other faiths and has held talks with Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim leaders. On Monday, he went even further by apologizing for what Catholics had done.
It began with the murder of an innocent 3-year-old boy who burned to death in his grandfather’s car in a Mafia ambush in January. Pope Francis was so shaken by the death of Nicola “Coco” Campolongo that he spoke out against the ferocity of the crime and those behind it.
“They are not with God,” Francis said during his visit to the nearby town of Sibari in the region of Calabria where the global crime syndicate ‘Ndrangheta is based. “They are excommunicated!”