Pope Francis has warned against the risk that Islamic militants could slip into Europe under cover of the huge wave of asylum seekers fleeing war in Syria.
But in an interview with a Portuguese Catholic broadcaster, the Pope also said the humanitarian crisis could help reawaken the continent’s conscience.
Francis referred to the risk that Islamic State, which has killed Christians and other minorities in the Middle East, could launch attacks in Europe.
“It’s true, I also want to recognise that, nowadays, territorial security conditions are not the same as they were in other periods [of mass migration],” he said.
“The truth is that just 400 kilometres from Sicily there is an incredibly cruel terrorist group. So there is a danger of infiltration, this is true.”
Security specialists have said the risk that militants could be smuggled into Europe in this way was small.
Asked if Rome could be the target of an attack, the Pope said: “Yes, nobody said Rome would be immune to this threat. But you can take precautions.”
Islamic State militants have made threats against Catholic targets in Rome that have been widely reported and security has been stepped up in the Vatican and other religious sites in Italy that draw many pilgrims and tourists.
On September 6, the Pope appealed to every Catholic parish, religious community and sanctuary in Europe to take in a family of refugees, saying he would set the example by hosting two families in parishes inside the Vatican.
“These poor people are fleeing war, hunger, but that is the tip of the iceberg … because underneath that is the cause, and the cause is a bad and unjust socioeconomic system,” he added.
Asked if the refugee crisis could be a positive occasion for Europe and a re-awakening of the continent’s conscience, the Francis said “it could be”.