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Jewish group criticizes pope for comparing refugee holding center to concentration camp

Pope Francis has drawn the ire of a Jewish group after referring to a refugee holding center in Europe as a “concentration camp.”

The Holy Father made the comments while meeting with Mideast migrants on Saturday at a basilica in Rome. At one point, he recounted a scene from his trip to Greece last year when a refugee described how militants had slit the throat of his Christian wife after she refused to throw her crucifix to the ground.

“I don’t know if he managed to leave that concentration camp, because refugee camps, many of them, are of concentration (type) because of the great number of people left there inside them,” the pope said, according to Reuters.

After the comments, the American Jewish Committee asked the pontiff “to reconsider his regrettable 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,” the AJC’s head, David Harris, said in a statement, according to Reuters.

The comments mark a rare public misstep for Pope Francis, who has endured himself to mainstream media outlets with his continuous comments in support of refugees. At the same time, Holocaust comparisons have been invoked in the broader debate over current events in Syria, with the country’s leader accused of gassing his own people and ISIS militants accused of committing genocide. In many ways, the European refugee crisis is directly related to the chaos in Syria.

The carefully worded statement from the American Jewish Committee shows a level of wariness that some Jews still hold toward the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II issued a sweeping apology to the Jewish community in 2000 for centuries of persecution, saying “we are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood.”

There is still much debate over the role the Vatican could have played in preventing the Holocaust, so it’s risky anytime the pope wades into discussion of the genocide that killed an estimated six million Jews.