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FILE PHOTO: Italy's Matteo Salvini attends a news conference about a trilateral meeting, during an informal meeting of EU Home Affairs Ministers in Innsbruck, Austria, July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo

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ROME (Reuters) - Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has protested to Italy's leading Roman Catholic weekly, Famiglia Cristiana, after it compared him to Satan on its front cover because of his uncompromising stance over immigration.

"Go Back Salvini", the influential magazine splashed on its cover, a clear reference to the medieval Catholic formula for the exorcism of a possessed person -- "Go Back Satan".

"Nothing personal or ideological, it's just the gospel," the magazine wrote, going on to quote numerous Italian bishops highly critical of Salvini's move to block the arrival of immigrants from the country's ports.

"They are comparing me to Satan? I don't deserve that," said Salvini, who is leader of the far-right League party and also serves as deputy prime minister in the new government.

"I am comforted by the fact that I receive daily support from many women and men of the Church," he added in a post on Facebook.

The magazine responded to Salvini's criticism, writing on its website: "Deputy Prime Minister Salvini has a rather 'personal' idea of the catechism, and also of the Gospel. According to the Word of God, we will all be judged on loving our neighbour."

Salvini is looking to limit the number of migrants let into the country and has shut Italian ports to humanitarian rescue ships, saying Rome is bearing an unfair burden within the European Union for dealing with asylum seekers.

Pope Francis, who was born in Argentina of Italian immigrant stock, has championed the cause of migrants since taking office in 2013. Last year he said newcomers should be welcomed with dignity and denounced the "populist rhetoric" he said was fuelling fear and selfishness in rich countries.

The Vatican's message hasn't always resonated with ordinary Italians and Salvini's promise of a crackdown on immigration has helped push support for the League jump to around 30 percent in recent opinion polls against just 6 percent four years ago.

More than 650,000 migrants have reached Italy since 2014, but numbers have fallen off sharply over the past 12 months.

Famiglia Cristiana sells more than 250,000 copies a week, making it one of the top-selling magazines in Italy.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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Reuters