Bishop Vecchi said that, while the inclusion of a boat might be justified, the crib was an essential sign of Jesus' humbling Himself

An Italian bishop has clashed with the local mayor over a nativity scene which replaces the crib with a dinghy.

The mayor of Castenaso, Stefano Sermenghi, said he had made the change to draw attention to the migrant crisis.

But Bishop Ernesto Vecchi, an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Bologna, said that the use of the dinghy was a step too far. The crib, Bishop Vecchio told Il Resto di Carlino, is a sign of how Christ humbles Himself to die on the cross for us. Here the nativity scene must follow the Gospels “to the letter”.

Last year’s Vatican Nativity scene included a boat which represented the dangerous journeys of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.

But the Castenaso scene goes much further, depicting the Virgin Mary actually sitting, with Jesus in her arms, in the rubber boat, with St Joseph standing over them.

Bishop Vecchi said that the inclusion of a boat could be justified, but not in such a central role.

The bishop accepted that the change was well-intentioned, but said it distorted the meaning of Christmas, since “Jesus is the saviour for every problem, not just one.”