ROME — The Vatican’s top diplomat said Friday that while there’s genuine “fear” about the possibility of a terrorist attack against the pope, there’s also a danger of what he called an “exaggerated preoccupation” with that prospect.

“[The] pope is calm,” Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin said Friday, adding that authorities “need to be alert” because the threats are real.

Parolin is the Vatican’s Secretary of State.

“[Francis] moves around with a lot of freedom, and this shows that he addresses these situations with great clarity and serenity,” Parolin said.

The prelate was commenting on the recent arrests in Italy of a terrorist cell which, according to local police, had planned an attack to the Vatican in 2010.

“The biggest fear is that it could affect innocent people if something were to happen,” Parolin said, adding that the Vatican is exposed, “as all are,” and that everyone “is afraid.”

Parolin’s comments came while speaking at the inauguration of the academic year of the Theological Faculty of Triveneto in Padua, Italy, roughly 300 miles from Rome.

Appointed by Francis in 2013, Parolin gave the students a glimpse into the pope’s thinking on diverse topics such as his upcoming visit to Cuba — as part of his trip to the United States, the need to help Christians facing persecution, and Africa.

“The pope has asked that the forces of the so-called Caliphate in northern Syria [ISIS] to be stopped,” Parolin said, adding that the position of the Holy See is to give precedence to the “moral force of law” over the “material force of weapons.”

Saying that Francis has denounced what’s going on in the Middle East with a “strong and fervent language,” Parolin added that the pope’s envoys are continuously working to guarantee constant communication and collaboration among minority communities under threat, to avoid the fragmentation of the region.

Parolin also said he wonders about what prompts many young Europeans to go to Syria to “join those [who are] usurping the name of God.”

One way to stop the youth from joining ISIS, he said, could be sending troops to fight against the terrorists, but he added that “it takes a long-term response to fill this void, this loneliness felt by many European youngsters.”

According to Parolin, the answer lies in taking care of these young people who are looking for an ideal and attracted by radicalism and violence. Youth need to understand, he said, that there are other ways to live life that don’t include participating in a war.

Regarding Francis’ visit to Cuba, Parolin said it’s related to the “warming of relations after a long period of coldness, misunderstanding, and conflict” between the island nation and the United States.

Adding that after many years of non-communication and incomprehension, creating a climate of mutual confidence isn’t easy. Parolin said that Francis’ visit to both countries as part of the same trip would be “an encouragement of the process.”

Parolin, who heads the Vatican’s foreign policy, also referred to the anniversary of the Armenian genocide and the diplomatic uproar caused by Francis’ decision to use the term “genocide” during a Mass celebrated in mid-April to honor the Armenian martyrs.

That choice, Parolin said, “wasn’t to elicit any animosity, but rather to approach the issues fairly and [to] attempt to find new ways of understanding and cooperation.”

An estimated 1 to 1.5 million Armenians were killed in Turkey during the fallout of the Ottoman Empire, between 1915 and 1918. Turkey objects vigorously whenever public figures label it a genocide.

Turning to Africa, Parolin said that the pope would like to “dedicate more attention” to the continent, and reiterated Francis’ plans to visit countries that are currently faced with conflict and difficulty.

On his way back from the Philippines last January, the pontiff told a group of journalists that he was planning a visit to Uganda and the Central African Republic, but that an Ebola outbreak had delayed the trip.

Talking to a room full of aspiring theologians, Parolin also addressed Francis’ theological preparation, saying that even though the pope is not a theologian, he has all that is necessary to guide the Church.

Some critics have called into question Francis’ teachings by saying that while the pope is a shepherd with pastoral instincts, he is not really a theologian.