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Church-State relations

French interior minister makes overtures to Catholic Church on Italy trip

French interior minister Gérald Darmanin attends a tribute in Rouen cathedral in Normandy to French priest Father Jacques Hamel, who was murdered by Islamist extremists, 26 July 2020
French interior minister Gérald Darmanin attends a tribute in Rouen cathedral in Normandy to French priest Father Jacques Hamel, who was murdered by Islamist extremists, 26 July 2020 AFP - SAMEER AL-DOUMY

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin kicked off his first trip abroad this weekend in Italy that was dominated by questions over migration and security. Darmanin, who is also in charge of religious affairs, took advantage of his stay to meet with members of France's Catholic community.

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Darmanin's two-day trip got off to an early start on Friday with talks alongside his counterpart Luciana Lamorgese.

On the menu were negotiations on how to curb illegal immigration.

France and Italy have agreed to team up to dismantle smuggler networks into Europe by merging their joint patrols under one single command, the two ministers announced.

“This is an extremely important step in the fight against illegal border crossings by immigrant populations,” Darmanin said, referring to the flow of migrants from the region of Ventimiglia on the Italian side to the region of Menton on the French side. 

Countries like France and Italy are grappling with how to let migrants move again once the coronavirus is vanquished.

Immigration however, was not the only issue topping Darmanin's list of concerns.

Courting Catholics

The French interior minister, whose portfolio also includes religious affairs, took advantage of his trip to meet with the Catholic community.

He paid a visit to French priests at the Church of St. Louis, the national church in Rome of France that was built in the 16th century.

The meeting comes less than a week after Darmanin's first official encounter with French Catholics.

On 26 July, the interior minister took part in a tribute ceremony to slain priest Father Jacques Hamel, who was knifed to death in 2016 at his church altar in an attack claimed by the Islamic State.

Darmanin's overtures to French Catholics in Italy, the second such visit in two months since that of Foreign Affairs Minister Jean Yves Le Drian in June, comes at a time when relations between the state and the Catholic Church are strained. 

Parenthood bill

French bishops have notably criticised the parliament's decision to pass a controversial bioethics law that would allow lesbian couples and single women to have access to medically assisted reproductive treatments such as in-vitro fertilisation.

The bill was finally passed late on Friday night after lengthy debate.

"Just because we do not agree does not mean we should not talk," Father Sébastien Moine, a chaplain at the Church of St. Louis told French daily La Croix. 

“Christians are citizens like everyone else; when we see social violence in France, we recognise the importance of having such opportunities to talk," he was quoted as saying.

Tribute

Later on Friday afternoon, the French interior minister headed to the Vatican for talks behind closed doors with the secretary of the department for integral development, Bruno-Marie Duffé.

Their long exchange focussed on the challenges of welcoming migrants.

Pope Francis has insisted that helping migrants remains a "moral duty".

Darmanin concluded his trip on Saturday with a visit to the French military cemetery in Rome. There, he paid tribute to colonial troops from Morocco and Algeria who fought in France's liberation campaign.

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