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Pope: 'We can speak of an Arab invasion' of Europe

Europe risks becoming an "empty place" by forgetting its history and neglecting cultural exchange, said Pope Francis. The pontiff lashed out at the rise of populism, saying ideologies are the "poison of politics."

Pope Francis said Europe must not neglect its historical roots of cultural exchange in reference to the wave of migration from the Middle East to the EU, in comments published on Friday by the Vatican's official daily Italian-language newspaper "L'Ossevatore Romano."

"If Europe wants to rejuvenate itself, it must rediscover its cultural roots … But forgetting its own history, Europe weakens itself. And that's when it risks becoming an empty place," the pope told Jean-Pierre Denis, editor-in-chief of the French magazine "La Vie."

"Today, we can speak of an Arab invasion. It is a social fact," the pope said in response to a question on why he believes Europe risks becoming an "empty place." He immediately added that anyone looking for a "'great change' - those dearest to the far-right - will remain disappointed."

"How many invasions has Europe experienced in the course of its history? It has always been able to overcome them; moving forward and finding itself better through the

exchange between cultures,"

the pope said, in an apparent reference to Europe's Renaissance, which was partially fostered through the preservation of Greek philosophical works by

Muslim scholars in Spain

and elsewhere in the Arab world.

EU member states have struggled to form a comprehensive strategy to handle an influx of asylum seekers and migrants - many from war-torn countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa - that saw more than 1 million people arriving in the 28-nation bloc in 2015.

Ex-Soviet satellite states, including Hungary, Poland and

Slovakia,

have told Brussels that they

refuse to take in more asylum seekers

under an EU plan to relocate refugees according to a quota system.

"Sometimes I wonder where you'll find a [French Foreign Minister Robert] Schumann or [German Chancellor Konrad] Adenauer, these great founders of the European Union," the pope said.

Countering populism, extremism

The pope responded to the rise of

far-right populism in Europe,

which has given way to such movements as Germany's "anti-Islamization"

PEGIDA

as well as

anti-immigrant

political parties, by stating that ideologies are the "poison of politics."

"When a country closes itself to a healthy notion of politics, it ends up being a prisoner hostage to ideological colonization. Ideologies are the poison of politics. You have the right be right or left. But ideology takes away freedom.

"If you want to avoid everyone turning towards extremes, you must nurture friendship and the pursuit of the common good, beyond political affiliations."

Francis also announced that the Vatican is preparing a meeting with officials from al-Azhar University in Cairo, known as the Muslim world's most prominent institution of Sunni thought.

Watch video 04:12

Germany: The pope's advice | Focus on Europe (23.12.2015)

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