Far Right Activists to Hijack Mass of Priest Who Welcomed African Migrants

italy Forza Nuova
A supporter of Italy's far-right Forza Nuova party shows a slogan on his t-shirt on arriving for a meeting in Milan April 5, 2009. A local party branch has called its members to mobilize and attend Mass at a church whose priest received insults for calling racists and fascists his "enemies." Paolo Bona/Reuters

A far right group in Italy is mobilizing its members to hijack a Sunday Mass at the church of a priest who recently received social media abuse for taking African youngsters to the swimming pool and described racists and fascists as his "enemies."

A message to local activists by the Tuscan regional branch of the Forza Nuova (New Force), a neo-fascist political group, said: "We want to check the effective doctrine of Father Biancalani. On Sunday we'll participate in the Mass," La Repubblica reported Thursday.

Forza Nuova group regional coordinator Leonardo Cabras told La Repubblica: "Some priests think that taking a picture with immigrants in a swimming pool and speaking out against fascists is religion. Too bad, for us the 'God, Homeland, Family' motto is more important than ever nowadays."

... e oggi... PISCINA!!! Loro sono la mia patria, i razzisti e i fascisti i miei nemici!

Posted by Massimo Biancalani on Thursday, 17 August 2017

Father Massimo Biancalani heads a congregation of about 5,700 people in the Tuscan town of Pistoia. His pictures of a group of 15 smiling young men from Somalia, Nigeria and Ghana at the church's shelters were published on Facebook on Saturday, with the caption reading "Today at the swimming pool… They are my homeland, the racists and fascists my enemies."

The next day, the priest posted pictures of the bikes used by the migrants, saying the wheels had been cut overnight.

The post attracted some praise but also an avalanche of negative comments and insults, some making allegations that the priest was a homosexual and a traitor.

Asin the U.S., where white supremacists are emboldened sympathetic political rhetoric, in Italy the far right is seeing an increasing amount of support by politicians expousing and promoting their racist and nationalist ideals, many of which date back to the fascist movement of Benito Mussolini from 1919 until the 1940s.

The leader of the far right, anti-immigration party Lega Nord (Northern League) shared the priest's post on Sunday to his more than 1.8 million followers, accusing the priest of being "anti-fascist" and "anti-Italian."

The regional governor Enrico Rossi called the far right initiative "an unprecedented provocation," and the bishop of Pistoia Fausto Tardelli condemned it as "absurd" and "sacrilegious."

"Attending Mass is about participating to the divine sacrifice, to receive the grace of Christ, and to learn to live in fraternal love. Every other purpose is [...] sacrilegious," he said in a statement shared on the Facebook page of the diocese.

The bishop also announced the general vicar Father Patrizio Fabbri will attend the Mass on Sunday is a show of support to Father Biancalani against possible "irresponsible initiatives."

Father Biancalani was given a $380 fine last month after failing to alert the police about the arrival of a 26-year-old man from Ghana to the shelter he runs in the parish, which also organizes workshops to teach people skills to find a job in Italy.

"I've received a fine because I gave hospitality for a few days to a poor migrants who had no shelter! You pay society a service, and the State fines you! Something isn't right here," he wrote on Facebook at the time.

Just a few days earlier he shared a quote by the late Father Andrea Gallo, an Italian priest who was known for his charitable work and left wing political ideals, that read "Christians, if they aren't welcoming, shouldn't call themselves Christians."