February 6, 2018 / 1:10 PM / 10 months ago

Pope decries anti-migrant violence after neo-Nazi shooting shakes Italy

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis urged Catholics on Tuesday to reflect on the causes of violence against migrants during the approaching season of Lent, in an appeal days after a shooting attack on Africans further inflamed Italy’s election campaign.

FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis gestures in the Paul VI Hall at the Vatican, January 27, 2018. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo

In his message for Lent, during which the faithful are called on to fast from food, make sacrifices, reflect and carry out extra acts of charity, Francis warned against allowing “that charity turns cold within us”.

He said such an attitude can lead to “violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own certainties: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us ...”

Italy was shaken on Saturday when a neo-Nazi shot and injured six African migrants while driving around the central city of Macerata in a racially motivated attack a month before the March 4 national elections.

The attack, which the pope did not mention specifically, aggravated tensions in a campaign in which Italy’s center-right parties have called for the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants.

The pope’s words were applicable to a number of other European countries where anti-immigrant sentiment is running high, including Germany, where the far right and anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party entered parliament last year.

Francis, who has made the defense of migrants a major plank of his papacy, also drew a link between their fate and two of his other main concerns - the environment and disarmament.

“The earth is poisoned by refuse, discarded out of carelessness or for self-interest. The seas, themselves polluted, engulf the remains of countless shipwrecked victims of forced migration,” he said.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that 2,832 migrants died last year trying to reach Italy from North Africa, down from 4,581 in 2016. Some 119,310 people made it alive to Italy in 2017, against 181,436 the year before.

Francis has made many appeals for disarmament and as the war of words between the United States and North Korea has heated up, he called for a legally binding ban on nuclear weapons.

This year, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14 and runs to Easter, April 1.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Mark Heinrich

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