Italy has been struggling to cope with thousands of illegal migrants that have reached its shores in recent months often in rickety boats as they flee unrest spreading through northern Africa. On Sunday, about 400 were rescued when their boat crashed against rocks at the port of Lampedusa, Italy's closest port.
The pope's message of tolerance for immigrants appeared especially pointed as the visit takes place in the region of Veneto, one of the strongholds of the anti-immigration Northern League, although Venice itself has long been run by center-left administrations.
There can be little question that France and other European nations would be relieved if Italy chose to absorb most of these migrants, since they have otherwise been leaving Italy and traveling to other countries, especially France, which has been bickering with Italy about this. Furthermore, the continued fighting in Libya can be expected to produce many more people heading out of there and into Europe.