Firemen stand above a protester perched atop a window, with banner hanging underneath, on the dome of St Peter's Basilica
A 49-year-old Italian man protesting the economic policies of Italy and Europe scaled a fence on top of the dome of St Peter's Basilica on Tuesday and remained there the next day as about 20,000 people listened to Pope Benedict XVI deliver his weekly general audience talk, reports the Catholic News Service.
While many people in the crowd noticed a banner hanging from the dome during the audience, it was impossible to read from the square and almost no one seemed to know a man was up there.
Pope Benedict did not mention the protester, Marcello Di Finizio, during his audience talk.
Di Finizio, who had scaled the fence on the dome in July as well, runs a beachfront business in northern Italy, renting umbrellas and chaise lounges. He has been protesting Italy's plan to obey European Union directives by holding public auctions to distribute licenses to operate such businesses on public beaches.
Shortly after the pope's general audience ended, Catholic News Service reached Di Finizio on his cellphone.
Speaking from the dome, he told CNS: "I'm here to ask for help. Our government, our state, doesn't exist. Sectors of the economy, the beach sector, have been paralyzed for years by government policies.
"I ask for political asylum from the Vatican," he said. "The pope is the highest ethical and moral authority in this country, or at least he should be - let's hope he still is."
Di Finizio, who was wearing an Italian flag around his neck, said he would not come down until government officials and labor union officials promised to sit down with him and resolve the serious economic issues facing Italians who work in the tourism sector.
FULL STORY Man protesting government economic policies climbs St. Peter's dome (CNS)