In a speech to a French Christian group on March 3, Pope Francis said that the "Arab invasion" occurring in Europe could bring positive changes for countries in the European Union.
The pope said the arrival of immigrants from countries like Syria and Iraq could strengthen Europe by making it more diverse and multi-cultural, Christian Today reports. His speech also said the current immigration situation in Europe should be looked at from a wider perspective, adding that the continent would in the future find itself "enhanced by exchange among cultures."
"Today we can talk of Arab invasion," said Pope Francis. "It is a social fact."
"How many invasions has Europe experienced in the course of its history!," Francis continued. "But it's always been able to overcome them and move forward, finding itself complemented and improved by cultural exchange they brought about.''
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Europe has recently faced unprecedented numbers of refugees and migrants from Syria and other countries in the Middle East, with the European Commission recording the number of Syrian immigrants at 362,800 in 2015, according to Christian Today.
The pope's speech comes at a moment when public backlash against immigration has led to increased pressure to close borders and pass legislation limiting immigrants' opportunities to enter Europe. German chancellor Angela Merkel faced harsh criticism in her country for her policy of accepting large numbers of migrants, with 81 percent of Germans saying they did not think Germany was handling the refugee crisis well, according to The Guardian.
Ultra-conservative party Alternative For Germany, meanwhile, has risen in popularity as the migrant situation has continued, with leaders of the party calling for a law that would allow German border police to use firearms against immigrants.
The pope's speech presented an alternative view to those who see the unprecedented numbers of migrants as a threat, saying that Europe had the opportunity to "bring about a certain unity to the world."