Francis described Europe as 'a barren woman' during a speech at the European parliament in 2014

The Pope has told an Italian newspaper that he received an angry phone call from Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany after comparing Europe to a “barren woman”.

In a speech to the European parliament in November 2014, Francis criticised Europe, describing the continent as “haggard” and “a grandmother, no longer fertile and vibrant.”

In an interview with the Corriere della Sera, Francis said Merkel was “a bit angry because I had compared Europe to a barren woman, incapable of producing children.”

He said: “She asked me if I really thought Europe could no longer make children. I told her yes it can, and many, because Europe has strong and deep roots,” adding that “in the darkest moments it has always shown itself to have unexpected resources.”

Discussing the refugee crisis, the Pope said Europe “must face the problem of how to address this great challenge that is primarily humanitarian.”

In the interview, the Pope also discussed his historic meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Russia in Cuba that is set to take place on Friday.

When asked what the meeting would be about, Pope Francis said, “Bridges. They must be constructed step by step until you are able to shake the hand of the person on the other side.”

He added: “Bridges last and promote peace. For this reason, they need to be taken down, not built. Anyway, they are destined to fall, one after another. Think of the Berlin Wall. It seemed eternal and yet, poof, in a day it fell.”

Pope Francis insisted he did little to make the meeting happen: “I just said that I wanted to meet and embrace my Orthodox brothers. Just that. Then there were two years of secret negotiations, conducted well by great bishops.”

Like China, “Russia has a lot to give”, the Pope added, saying that the Vatican and Moscow’s views had chimed recently over crises in the Middle East.

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