Immigration and economic recession topped the agenda for Pope Francis as he swept into Turin on a two-day visit, where he was greeted by more than 70,000 people yesterday at an open-air mass.
As he was driven in his open-sided white Mercedes Popemobile – after celebrating mass in the baroque splendour of Turin’s Piazza Vittorio Veneto – the eighty-degree sunshine of the north-western Italian city was reflected off the thousands of raised smartphones, tablets and cameras pointed at the pontiff by pilgrims and residents lining the streets.
“Immigration increases competition, but migrants must not be blamed, because they are victims of injustice, of wars, of a throwaway society,” he said, referring to the increasing numbers of Middle Eastern and African migrants attempting the hazardous crossing of the Mediterranean to Italy.
More than 50,000 migrants have arrived on Italy’s southern shores so far this year, according to figures from the Interior Ministry and International Order for Migration. Italy’s right-wing Northern League party frequently blames migrants for taking resources from Italy’s parlous economy.
“It makes one cry to see the spectacle of these days in which human beings have been treated like merchandise,” the Pope said, referring to the migrants. After mass, the Pope was driven through the historical centre of Turin. The next stop was for lunch at the Archbishop’s residence with a group of migrants, young offenders and a family from the Roma minority.
One of the Pope’s first meetings after arriving at Turin’s Caselle airport was with a large group of local businessmen and workers. Unemployment for young job-seekers in Italy in April this year ran at 40 per cent, according to Eurostat, one lead source of EU-zone statistics.
Outspoken on issues such as immigration, corruption and recession, the Pope, who is Argentinian, has most recently upset America’s Republicans with his stance on climate change.
“I like this Pope, he tackles difficult and divisive issues, and he is not afraid,” said Eric, a 36-year old Petroleum Engineering student from Accra in Ghana, studying at Turin’s Polytechnic.
He and a fellow Ghanaian student were shopping for souvenirs on Turin’s central Via Garibaldi, thronged with stalls and thousands of pilgrims buying every form of religious memorabilia related to the Pope, and to the Shroud of Turin, which has been on display in the city’s Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist since April this year.
An estimated million people have seen it since. The Pope had stopped to pray yesterday in front of the 14ft shroud, which is believed by many to have wrapped the body of Jesus after the crucifixion. Scientific and theological debate has raged for centuries about its true origins.
The Vatican has not taken a position on whether it is genuine, but the Pope said after his visit that “the face on the shroud is the face of anybody who has ever suffered”.
Tea-towels, ashtrays, thimbles, paperweights, snow-globes, key-rings, hologrammed postcards and endless posters were some of the items available on Via Garibaldi emblazoned with the image of the Pope or the Shroud.
Three immigrants from Senegal were standing on Piazza Castello in front of the palace of the former Dukes of Savoy. Their wares were characteristic of those sold by African migrants throughout Italian cities: fake Raybans, smartphone covers bearing the image of owls, smiley faces and Union flags, and the ubiquitous selfie-stick.
“Nobody seems to want our stuff today,” said one of the trio.