VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis urged European leaders on Sunday to stop bickering over the fate of 49 migrants stuck aboard two humanitarian rescue ships on the Mediterranean and to give them a safe port of call.
With his comments at his address to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square at the end marking the feast of the Epiphany, Francis jumped into a diplomatic fracas between Italy and Malta.
"I make a heartfelt appeal to European leaders to show concrete solidarity for these people," Francis said.
They were "seeking a safe port where they can disembark," he said.
Thirty-two people are aboard the Sea-Watch 3, a vessel run by a German humanitarian group, which plucked them from an unsafe boat off the coast of Libya on Dec. 22. They include three small children and four teenagers. Another ship run by the German humanitarian group, Sea-Eye, carries 17 people rescued on Dec. 29 on board its ship.
Last week, nearly two dozen humanitarian groups, including Amnesty International and the United Nations' International Organization for Migration, called on the European Union to offer a safe port to both vessels.
Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, leader of the 5-Star Movement, has said Italy would take in women and children if Malta allowed the ships to dock. But Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who leads the anti-immigrant League party and has closed ports to rescue ships, opposes this.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Alison Williams and Angus MacSwan)