Following a tradition that was once very popular among European leaders, Italy's conservative and Catholic interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who has taken a strong stand against illegal immigration, publicly commended his party's work to the six patron saints of Europe and then, holding up a rosary, publicly said he was entrusting his life and work to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus, for help and protection. Several liberal officials at the Vatican, not surprisingly, criticized Salvini's open display of religious fervor.
Salvini, who is also the deputy prime minister of Italy, made his remarks during a gathering with other conservative European leaders at the Piazza del Duomo in Milan, Italy, on Saturday, May 18.
"We trust in men and women of good will," said Salvini, as translated by the Catholic blog Rorate Caeli. "We commend ourselves to the six Patrons of Europe: St. Benedict of Norcia, St Brigit of Sweden, St. Catherine of Siena, Saints Cyril and Methodius, and St. Teresa Benedetta of the Cross."
"We entrust ourselves to them," he said. "We entrust our destiny, our future and the peace and prosperity of our peoples to them."
Then, holding his rosary in the air, Salvini declared, “Personally, I entrust Italy, my life, and your lives to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who I’m sure will bring us to victory because Italy, this piazza, this Europe, represents mothers, fathers, men and women who, with good humor, courage and determination want peaceful coexistence, are respectful but are also asking for respect.”
Salvini also spoke affectionately about Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, who had urged Europeans to not forget their Christian roots.
In the past, Catholic leaders in Europe often publicly called upon God and the saints for assistance in their work, for defense of their homeland, and for the salvation of their people.
Prior to the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when Muslim forces greatly outnumbered troops of the Venetian Republic and Spain, Pope Pius V, Phillip II, and John of Austria called upon all Catholics to pray the rosary continuously and ask God for help to defeat the Islamists. It was one of the largest naval battles in history and the Christian armada was greatly outnumbered. However, they won. The defeat of the Muslims on Oct. 7, 1571 is celebrated today as a special feast day in the Catholic Church -- the Feast of the Holy Rosary.
Despite Salvini's religious fervor, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, denounced the deputy prime minister, saying God is for everyone and "invoking him for yourself is always very dangerous."
Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a close friend of Pope Francis, incredibly said, “Christians should be angered by rosaries in politics.”
Over the last two years, Pope Francis has made several comments about immigration that critics have read as veiled swipes at Salvini. It was also recently reported that the Vatican refused to arrange a meeting between Salvini and the Pope because of the minister's strong opposition to illegal immigraiton.
Catholic Herald columnist and theology Associate Prof. C.C. Pecknold said, “There is nothing wrong with rosaries in politics. We need whole nations consecrated to Our Lady.”
Pecknold, who teaches theology at the Catholic University of America, further said, "Catholic politicians in the United States rarely make any outward profession of their faith, and when they do it is usually to claim that they still personally practice it even though they dissent from Church teaching. But in a Saturday rally in Milan, Salvini held the Rosary. In his speech, he quoted G.K. Chesterton, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Robert Cardinal Sarah."
"He did not dismiss the import of Europe, but invoked the prayers of her patrons, St Benedict of Norcia, St Brigid of Sweden, St Catherine of Sienna," said Pecknold. "At the end of his campaign rally Salvini commended himself and all of Italy to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Milan crowd cheered with Beattle-mania-like vigor."