The Virgin Mary is holding baby Jesus on the rubber boat in the crib scene at Piazza Zapelloni, a move by the town's mayor, Stefano Sermenghi, to symbolise the plight of migrants making the treacherous Mediterranean crossing and to promote acceptance.
But it didn't bode well with local bishop Monsignor Ernesto Vecchi. Although he had no issue with the boat being part of the scene, he insisted that it had no place in the manger, especially with the Madonna and a baby on board.
“The central nucleus of a nativity scene calls for a child in swaddling clothes to be placed in a manger, and this must be respected,” he told the local newspaper, Il Resto Di Carlino.
“The most important part of the crib cannot be represented by a boat.”
When questioned about the message the scene was intended to give, and reminded about Pope Francis' plea for an environment that welcomes migrants, the bishop replied:
“I'm not saying a crib cannot be enriched by other elements, and certainly, a boat is a symbol that reminds us of the need for hospitality, but don't forget that Jesus is the saviour of all problems, not just one.”
The scene also displeased some onlookers, who posted photos of it on social media while lambasting the left-wing mayor for “killing tradition”.
Unperturbed by his critics, Sermenghi said: “Many people in Italy open their mouths, but then nobody does anything to provide a positive welcome to those who arrive.”