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Pope Francis arrives in the Apostolic Palace for a meeting with cardinals to formally set a date for a saint-making Mass, at the Vatican, Thursday, April 20, 2017. Francis confirmed Thursday he will use his upcoming visit to the Portuguese shrine at Fatima to canonize two Portuguese shepherd children who say they saw visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago. (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

Pope Francis likened refugee centers in Europe to 'concentration camps'

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Pope Francis likened refugee centers in Europe to "concentration camps" while speaking to migrants at the Basilica of St. Bartholomew on Saturday. 

The pope was telling the migrants about a Middle Eastern refugee he met while visiting a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos last year, CNN reports. 

"I don't know if he was able to get out of that concentration camp, because the refugee camps -- many -- are concentration (camps), because they are so crowded with people," Pope Francis said in Italian.

Refugee Arrivals to the Mediterranean Since 2014
Refugee Arrivals

As news of the pontiff's comparison spread, the American Jewish Committee, a Jewish advocacy organization, released a statement criticizing his choice of words. 

"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,” AJC 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," he added. "There is no comparison to the magnitude of that tragedy.”

Harris and the AJC then urged the pope to "reconsider his regrettable choice of words." 

The Vatican's website noted that Pope Francis was "speaking off-the-cuff" when he likened refugee camps to concentration camps. 

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