BY ANNA ARCO
BENtEntcr xvt has entered a fierce political row triggered by a Catholic magazine which claimed that Italy is in danger of returning to Fascism under Silvio Berlusconi.
Famiglia Cristiana caused uproar last week when it compared the government's crackdown on gypsies, immigrants and the homeless to Benito Mussolini's racial laws.
Benedict XVI appeared to enter the debate on Sunday by saying the Church had a duty to combat "the temptation to racism, intolerance and exclusion".
He said: "One of humanity's great achievements is in fact overcoming racism."
His remarks came just days after the Vatican distanced itself from Famiglia Cristiana by clarifying that it was not an official organ of the Church.
Although Benedict XVI spoke in general terms during the Sunday Angelus, he appeared to draw a parallel to the situation outlined in the Catholic magazine's editorials over the last few months.
He said: "Too often... there are new worrying manifestations of this in various countries, linked with social and economic problems but nevertheless cannot justify racial contempt and discrimination."
Government ministers rushed to deny that the Pope was referring to the situation in Italy. where a wave of crime at the hands of Romanian gypsies brought Berlusconi's government to power in May.
Carlo Giovanardi, the undersecretary for families, who had expressed outrage at Famiglia Cristiana 's accusations earlier in the week, said he thought the Pope was speaking in general terms. Maurizio Gasparri, head of Mr Berlusconi's party in the upper house, threatened to sue the Paulist Fathers who own the magazine.
Another member of Forza Italia, Mr Berlusconi's party, and a priest, Fr Gianni Bagel Bozzo, told the Italian newspaper La Stampa that the Pope's speeches are "always directed at cities and the world" and were "always general".
He said: "It seems to me very difficult that the words of the Angelus could be referring to the Italian situation, especially after the precision with which the Holy See's spokesman which distanced it from the weekly newspaper Famiglia Cristiana. It would be absurd that the Pope would contradict the words of his spokesman."
Famiglia Cristiana, read by some 600,000 people, has increased its attacks since Berlusconi's party came into power in May. They have accused the government of racism, xenophobia and of "waging war on the poor-.
This has stung the govern
ment as many of its members consider themselves devout Catholics.
Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said that while the magazine was an important Catholic publication, its editorial line was independent of the Church and did not necessarily reflect the views of the Church.
Fr Lombardi said: "The positions it takes are exclusively the responsibility of its editois."
The government's ruling coalition parties said that Fr Lombardi's words signalled that the Vatican was clearly distancing itself from the magazine.
In the first 100 days the Italian government has cracked down on gypsies, immigrants and the homeless as part of a drive to bring down crime. Famiglia Cristiana 's most virulent attack came after the government proposed to fingerprint Roma children in gypsy camps.
In the editorial it compared the fingerprinting of gypsies to the persecution of Jews under the Third Reich. It said: "We hope that the suspicion that Fascism is being reborn in a different form proves to be untrue."
Government ministers in turn attacked the magazine, accusing it of being Communist.
Vatican Notebook: Page 5
BY STAFF REPORTER
A SUDANESE refugee has fulfilled his dream by competing in the Olympic Games.
Lopez Lomong. a devout Catholic who resettled in New York, reached the semi-final of the men's 1 500metre competition.
As a "lost boy of Sudan", Mr Lomong was one of thousands of children abducted from their homes by guerrilla factions looking to train them as soldiers.
He escaped through a hole in the fence and ran ,for days all the way to Kenya. He spent 10 years in a refugee camp before being adopted by a New York family through a United Nations programme. He started cross-country running at high school and was named team captain for three years in a row.
After graduation he went to Northern Arizona University because he believed it would improve his chances of realising his Olympic dream.
He qualified for the 1500-metre run by finishing third in Olympic trials in July. When he heard the news he told his foster parents: "When you put God first in your life, anything is possible."
His teammates on the American Olympic team chose him to carry the United States flag during the opening ceremony on August 8. Mr Lomong's athletics coach at ililly High School, Jim Paccia, said that his determination inspired the other runners on the team.
"Lopez's drive was internal. All the other guys on the team realised that and they stepped it up," Mr Paccia told the New York Catholic Sun newspaper. When runners complained about a challenging run, he said he reminded them about Mr Lomong's own struggles in Sudan.
Mr Paccia said Mr Lomong described his escape from the Sudanese camp and then seeing his name among those chosen to go to the United States as "his two signs from God".
"He thought he was dead in that camp," Mr Paccia said. "When he saw his name on that list and knew that he was going [to a new] home, that was a turning point."
In addition to competing in the Olympics, Mr Lomong has been a member of Team Darfur. a coalition of international athletes committed to raising awareness about the genocide occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan.
"When we were in Africa, we didn't know what was there for us as kids — we just ran," Mr Lomong said. "God was planning all of this stuff for me, and! didn't know. Now I'm using running to get the word out about how horrible things were back in Sudan during the war."