Priests demand 'civil disobedience' for Christmas to protest anti-migrant law

Father Luca Favarin with migrants from his community in Padua, northern Italy

(CNN)Italian Catholic priests are engaging in acts of resistance to a new anti-immigration law which they say will make thousands of people homeless.

The so-called "security decree," spearheaded by hard-line Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, came into force at the end of November. It abolished Italy's "humanitarian protection" category for migrants who don't meet the country's strict asylum criteria or are waiting for a response to their application, and made it easier to expel them.
Under the new law, some migrants will lose their protected legal status and as a result will have to leave immigration centers, putting them into legal limbo -- without the prospect of a job, healthcare assistance or social integration.

    Following Martin Luther King

    At least three priests told CNN they are calling for "conscientious objection" to the law.
    Father Alex Zanotelli, a member of Verona's Comboni missionaries, said the decree is "unconstitutional and creates a sort of apartheid in the country between Italians and second-class people, the migrants.
    "I'm appealing (for) civil resistance following Martin Luther King's example: When a law is unfair because it degrades the individual, it's my duty to disregard it," he told CNN.
    Zanotelli launched a Change.org petition calling for civil disobedience, such as asking doctors to keep treating migrants, lawyers to challenge the legislation and citizens to disobey the decree. So far the petition has almost 60,000 signatures.
    He says that, far from improving Italy's security situation, the decree will push people toward criminal organizations, such as the Mafia, who are ready to exploit them for cheap labor and illegal activities.
    Father Luca Favarin, from the northern Italian town of Padua, says the law -- which he calls the "in-security decree" -- will create a "factory of illegals," people who will be forced to live in stations or under bridges.
    Father Luca Favarin with migrants from his community in Padua, northern Italy
    Earlier in December, Favarin was at the center of a controversy over a Facebook post in which he called on Christians to boycott the traditional Christmas nativity scene.
    Many Italian homes display a model nativity at this time of year, and it is an important symbol of faith for many Christians. But Favarin argued that some people have a nativity at home while holding views on migrants that clash with Christian values.
    Favarin clarified in a radio interview that it is "hypocritical" to display a nativity scene and also support Salvini, because the message of the Gospel is to welcome the poor, the sick and strangers. "The nativity scene is the image of a refugee who seeks shelter and finds it in a stable," he said.
    Father Massimo Biancalani has been hosting migrants in his church in Vicofaro.
    Favarin is working to integrate 150 migrants who live in eight buildings owned by the church across Padua province.
    The migrants come either directly from Lampedusa -- the closest Italian island to Africa and a main destination for migrants seeking to enter the European Union -- or other migration centers. They are rerouted to Favarin's programs, which teach them Italian and help with integration, with the ultimate aim of job placements in bars and restaurants owned by the church.
    But now, Favarin says, due to the new legislation, at least two or three migrants in each building will be