Pope Francis has come under fire after he encouraged Russian youths not to give up their “legacy” as heirs of a “great, enlightened Russian empire.”

“Never give up this legacy, you are the heirs of the great Mother Russia, go forward with it,” Pope Francis told young Russians gathered for the All-Russian Meeting of Catholic Youth in St. Petersburg on Friday.

During the speech, a clip of which was posted online, the pope also invoked former Russian emperors Peter I and Catherine II, two rulers who played key roles in expanding Russia’s conquests in Europe, and who are known as symbols of Russian imperialism.