Pope Benedict XVI urged Italy on Sunday to welcome immigrants fleeing to its shores, invoking the historic role of Venice and the once influential church in nearby Aquileia as a cultural bridge during his two-day visit to northern Italy.
“The churches created by Aquileia are called today to renew that ancient spiritual unity, in particular in light of the phenomenon of immigration and the new geopolitical circumstances,” Benedict said during his homily to more than 300,000 worshippers gathered in a vast park on the Venetian mainland.
The pope’s message of tolerance for immigrants appeared especially pointed as the visit takes place in the region of Veneto, one of the strongholds of the anti-immigration Northern League, although Venice itself has long been run by center-left administrations.
His visit started Saturday in Aquileia, a former Roman port city where the Patriarchal Basilica was erected during the Middle Ages. Aquileia became one of the most influential dioceses of the era, establishing churches from present-day Hungary to Germany and northwestern Italy and uniting Latin culture with Germanic and Slavic peoples.