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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis is again slamming Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini over his "Italians first" platform, comparing the right-wing leader's rhetoric to that of the Nazi regime.
"I am concerned because we hear speeches that resemble those of Hitler in 1934," Francis told Italian newspaper La Stampa on Friday. "'Us first. We … We …' These are frightening thoughts."
The Pope also denounced Salvini's defense of Italy's national sovereignty, calling it "an attitude of isolation."
"Sovereignism means being closed," said the pontiff. "A country should be sovereign but not closed. Sovereignty must be defended, but relations with other countries and with the European community must also be protected and promoted. Sovereignism is an exaggeration that always ends badly: it leads to war."
Francis went on to characterize migration as a pro-life issue:
First of all, never forget the most important right of all: the right to life. The immigrants arrive mainly to escape from war or hunger, from the Middle East and from Africa. On the war, we must engage and fight for peace. Hunger mainly concerns Africa. The African continent is the victim of a cruel curse: in the collective imagination it seems to be exploited. Instead, part of the solution is to invest there to help solve their problems and stop migratory flows.
"Criteria must be followed," Francis continued. "First: to receive, which is also a Christian, evangelical task. Doors must be opened, not closed. Second: to accompany. Third: to promote. Fourth: to integrate."
"At the same time, governments must think and act prudently, which is a virtue of governments," the Pope added. "Those in charge are called to think about how many migrants they can take in."
Roughly 700,000 migrants have entered Italy since 2013. The influx has sparked a growing backlash, with Salvini and other populist leaders arguing the country cannot sustain additional inflows.
Francis' comments came just a day after Salvini called for snap elections in a bid to decouple his Lega party from the Five Star Movement, an anti-establishment coalition partner whose popularity among Italian voters is waning.
Buoyed by the deputy prime minister's resolute opposition to mass Muslim migration, Lega has been surging in the polls in recent months, and a new election could propel it across the 40% threshold to become Italy's lone governing party.
The Pope's remarks are the latest in a volley of criticism directed against Salvini by Vatican officials and prominent Italian Catholic leftists.
In June, Francis compared Salvini to Cain, the Old Testament figure who murdered his brother Abel.
In May, after Salvini publicly entrusted Italy to the Immaculate Heart of Mary at a rally in Milan, Vatican Secretary of State Cdl. Pietro Parolin chided the deputy prime minister: "I believe partisan politics divides, but God belongs to everyone. Invoking God for oneself is always very dangerous."
The next day, Bp. Domenico Mogavero, head of the judicial affairs panel of the Italian bishops' conference, issued his own condemnation: "We can no longer allow (people) to appropriate the sacred signs of our faith to peddle their inhuman, anti-historic views, diametrically opposed to the Gospel message. Those who are with him cannot call themselves Christian because they have reneged on the commandment of love."
In March, reports in the Italian press indicated that Pope Francis refuses to meet with Salvini, owing to his stance on migration.
In July 2018, Famiglia Cristiana, Italy's largest Catholic publication, ran a cover story comparing Salvini to Satan.
That same month, during a homily inside the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica, Italian priest Fr. Alex Zanotelli declared the deputy prime minister to be "the Antichrist."
In spite of ongoing criticism, Salvini is unbowed. His unyielding stance on migration has made him the country's most trusted political leader.
Support for Pope Francis, meanwhile, is eroding across Italy — a slump attributed to his support for the European Union's open-door migration policy.
"Many Catholics no longer perceive the Holy Father as a spiritual leader," said Oliviero Forti, head of migration services for Caritas Italy. "On the contrary, in some cases, he is even accused of being too far from the problems that people face."