Pope to visit Chinese community in Florence

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Prato reported having 17,000 Chinese nationals in 2010. Photo: Fabio Muzzia/AFP
19:02 CET+01:00
Pope Francis will visit one of Italy's largest Chinese communities in November, at a time when the Vatican is engaged in negotiations to normalize relations with Beijing, the Holy See said on Friday.

The Pope, who will be in Florence on November 10th for a church conference, will use the opportunity to visit the city's northwest suburb of Prato, where the Chinese community is based.

Prato is home to many Chinese immigrants - many of whom work in illegal sweatshops, in inhumane conditions.

Officially, Prato reported having 17,000 Chinese nationals in 2010.

But local sources say the number is closer to 50,000. The Argentine pontiff, who champions the plight of the poor, homeless and other marginalized groups, has frequently criticised the illegal exploitation of immigrant labour.

Last year, a fire killed seven people - all of them Chinese nationals - at a textile factory in Prato, part of which had been illegally converted into a dormitory.

The announcement of the visit comes at a time when the Vatican is trying to normalize relations with China's communist authorities in a bid to protect the rights of millions of Catholics in China who complain of discrimination.

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Catholic bishops are still appointed with the approval of Beijing.

The Vatican has not had diplomatic relations with China since they were broken off by Mao Zedong in 1951.

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