US Jewish group decries pope calling refugee centers ‘concentration camps’
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US Jewish group decries pope calling refugee centers ‘concentration camps’

AJC says that while migrants’ conditions deserve international attention, there’s ‘no comparison’ to the Holocaust

Pope Francis prays during a weekly general audience at St Peter's square, the Vatican, April 5, 2017. (AFP/Filippo MONTEFORTE)
Pope Francis prays during a weekly general audience at St Peter's square, the Vatican, April 5, 2017. (AFP/Filippo MONTEFORTE)

An American Jewish group called Saturday night on Pope Francis to retract statements he made earlier in the day referring to European refugee centers “concentration camps.”

“The conditions in which migrants are currently living in some European countries may well be difficult, and deserve still greater international attention, but concentration camps they certainly are not,” American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said in a statement. “The Nazis and their allies erected and used concentration camps for slave labor and the extermination of millions of people during World War II. There is no comparison to the magnitude of that tragedy.”

Pope Francis had described some of Europe’s refugee centers as “concentration camps” when he paid tribute to an unknown Christian woman slain for her faith in front of her Muslim husband.

“These refugee camps — so many are concentration camps, crowded with people… because international accords seem more important than human rights,” Francis said in impromptu remarks at a ceremony in memory of modern-day Christian martyrs.

Departing from his prepared script and appearing unusually emotional as he spoke, the 80-year-old pontiff said he wanted the woman to be remembered along with all the other martyrs commemorated in Rome’s Basilica of St. Bartholomew.

Pope Francis greets people as he arrives at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word with the Community of Sant Egidio in memory of the 'New Martyrs' of the 20th and 21th century, on April 22, 2017 in Rome. (AFP/Alberto Pizzoli)
Pope Francis greets people as he arrives at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Tiber Island to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word with the Community of Sant Egidio in memory of the ‘New Martyrs’ of the 20th and 21th century, on April 22, 2017 in Rome. (AFP/Alberto Pizzoli)

He revealed that he had met the woman’s husband during his visit to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last year. “I do not know what happened to him, if he managed to get out of his concentration camp, and get to somewhere else” Francis said, describing the man as a father of three but not revealing his nationality.

“We respectfully urge the pope to reconsider his regrettable choice of words,” Harris said. “Precision of language and facts is absolutely essential when making any historical reference, all the more so when coming from such a prominent and admired world figure.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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