As the standoff between the migrant rescue ship Open Arms and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini enters its nineteenth day, Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, the President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, has reminded the controversial far-right politician that “we help those in need, Italians or foreigners”.

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Bassetti was speaking yesterday at the Meeting for friendship among peoples in Rimini, where he recalled that the political crisis provoked by Salvini “is a crisis first of the system and of vision before it is a crisis of government”.

The cardinal, who is also Archbishop of Perugia, didn’t shy away in his remarks from other aspects of Italian politics.

He said “it is sad that a country doesn’t know how to plan for the future, that it fails to heal the wounds of its history”, and warned Italy’s politicians not to overlook the constant increase in the migration of young people abroad.

This brain drain is a clear symptom, the cardinal explained, of the “progressive expansion of an old and static society”, aged above all by a “spirit of corporatism and preservation that allows big business and oligarchies, favouritism and nepotism to flourish”.


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But Bassetti saved his strongest condemnation for the way society too often treats its young people.

Youth in Italy “remain buried in the desert or, perhaps I should say, in the swamp of our society”, the cardinal denounced, adding that “unfortunately, I have a clear feeling that our country is not in a position to take full advantage of the talents, abilities and skills of our young people”.

For many decades, the cardinal pointed out, “in public discourse it is common to talk about young people with language full of rhetoric and good feelings, but with little attention paid to their lives in concrete, and especially with a questionable sense of responsibility towards them”.

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But even though society lets them down, Bassetti encouraged young people not to let others rob them of their dreams.

“The young people I know… are in fact very rich. Not in money, but in talent”, Bassetti added.

Far from an escape from reality, the dreams of youth are “the foundation of a future that must be created with courage and the strength of the Spirit”, the cardinal said.

He added that young people can show society the way forward, which is “to recover the deep sense of the concept of relationship”.

“Only through relationships with others can we become part of a living body: of a family, of a community of citizens, of a school, of an association and of an ecclesial community”, Bassetti warned.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.