Pope Francis called for a united Europe in an interview published by Italian daily La Stampa on Friday, saying recent political rhetoric has echoed that of Nazi Germany.
“I am concerned because we hear speeches that resemble those of Hitler in 1934,” he said. “ 'Us first. We … We … ’ These are frightening thoughts.”
It is not the first time the pontiff has made such remarks, but his comments published Friday came as Italy’s populist government appeared to be on the verge of collapse.
On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, the most powerful politician in Italy, called for parliament to be dissolved and asked President Sergio Mattarella to order snap elections that could make Italy’s government lean even further right.
Mattarella has not yet signaled whether he will follow through on the call, which came after 14 months of disputes within Italy’s coalition government. Tensions escalated this week after disagreement over plans for a high-speed rail.
As leader of the League party, Salvini, who also serves as interior minister, has hammered home rhetoric that has drawn comparisons to that of President Trump, calling for Italians to put Italy first and launching a crackdown on immigration.
He has banned migrant rescue ships from docking in Italy and shut down a migrant center in Sicily that was once one of the largest in Europe. Earlier this year, Salvini accused the captain of a humanitarian rescue ship carrying migrants of “an act of war” after her ship hit a police boat by the pier.
And on a visit to Washington in June, Salvini said that “Italy wants to be the most solid, effective, coherent and credible partner for the U.S.”
In the interview Friday, Francis called for migrants to be integrated into society and said nationalism is an “attitude of isolation."
He has repeatedly expressed concern over what he sees as a rising tide of populism.
In January 2017, in response to a question about populism, Francis told Spain’s El Pais that before World War II, there was “a people who were immersed in a crisis, who were searching for their identity until this charismatic leader came and promised to give their identity back, and he gave them a distorted identity, and we all know what happened."
The same year, Francis said that “nationalist agendas risk thwarting the courageous dreams of the founders of Europe."
But if he’s now trying to appeal to Salvini, his calls may not find a receptive audience. Salvini has openly criticized the pope, tweeting in 2016: “The pope says migrants are not a danger. Whatever!”
Kayla Epstein contributed to this report.