PONTIDA, Italy — A northern Italian town in the heartland of Italy’s far-right League Party has adopted a new emblem, one that sends a clear message about the country's history: a Christian cross.
“This is our symbol. It belongs to us, and I'm proud of it,” said Luigi Carozzi, the mayor of Pontida.
Carozzi’s decision is just one example of how Christian symbols are having something of a comeback in Italy. And it's not due to a religious awakening or the efforts of local mayors, but rather because of a policy that the governing League Party wants to pass.
Last year, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini proposed new legislation that requires all public buildings to display crucifixes or face fines. The proposal is unlikely to become law, but Salvini's supporters, including members of the League Party, love the idea.
At a League Party club in Milan, supporter Adriana said she backs the bill and sees it as part of the wider campaign to assert Italian identity in the face of immigration.
"I respect other people, but when they come here they have to respect me. If they don’t like my country, they can go back home” she told VICE news.
But support for the bill is seriously lacking in the Catholic Church, which opposes the law. Clergy close to the Pope have said the cross shouldn't be used as a political party’s "team emblem."
The Church’s official position hasn’t stopped the League Party from doubling its support in 2018, among those who attend church regularly.
One member of the clergy, Father Massimo Biancalani, isn't letting that deter him from housing more than one hundred migrants at his church in Pistoia. Despite being attacked directly by Salvini on Twitter, Biancalani remains openly critical of the government’s proposed policy. He said the League is using Christian symbols as “support for their ideology."
This segment originally aired April 3, 3019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.