updated 11/14/2006 11:27:34 AM ET 2006-11-14T16:27:34

Immigrants must follow local laws, including bans on veils covering the face, a Vatican cardinal said Tuesday, referring to debates in Europe about Muslim women and integration.

Immigrants from other religions “must respect the traditions, the symbols, the culture, the religion of the countries they go to,” said Italian prelate Renato Martino, who heads the Vatican’s office on issues about migrants, itinerant workers and refugees.

“This seems to me to be elementary,” Martino told a news conference. “It is quite right that (local) authorities insist on this.”

Heated debate in Britain
Britain is seeing heated debate over veils worn by some Muslim women, raising questions about minority groups’ integration in Europe. Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw started the argument by announcing he had asked women to remove the coverings from their face when they come to his district office.

Another Vatican official dealing with issues of immigration, Monsignor Agostino Marchetto, noted that Italy “rightly” has a law demanding that people in public keep their face visible. The law dates to Italy’s crackdown on domestic terrorists three decades ago.

Obeying it is “part of accepting the law of this country,” the prelate said.

Predominantly Roman Catholic Italy has also been debating how much immigrants from other cultures and other religions should integrate into society.

Push for Christians' right to worship
Martino also pushed the Vatican’s campaign for Christians’ right to worship around the world. Referring to the non-Christian homelands of some immigrants in Europe, the cardinal said: “Their countries of origin don’t have the same freedom and do not make it easy for migrants, laborers, who come from Christian countries to profess their faith.”

The cardinal was presenting Pope Benedict XVI’s annual message on migrant and refugee issues.

The pope lately has lobbied for the right of Christians to worship openly in countries like Saudi Arabia, which forbid that.

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