While Europe has closed its doors to refugees fleeing war and terrorism, Pope Francis opened his heart on a visit to see them on the Greek island of Lesbos, world reports say.
Pope Francis Calls for “Common Humanity” Toward Greece Refugees
International Business Times/Snehar Shankar
Pope Francis visited Greece Saturday to thank the country’s people for welcoming refugees, despite the European Union’s controversial plan to deport them to Turkey, the Associated Press reported Saturday.
During his visit, the pope assured refugees in the Greek island that they are not alone, and the pontiff was scheduled to observe a minute’s silence at the Moria camp to honor those who died while crossing the dangerous waters.
The Vatican is currently hosting two refugee families and the AP report cited a Greek state-run news network to say that the pope may take back up to 10 refugees with him after the five hour trip.
The gesture would be along the lines of Pope Francis’ calls to open Europe’s borders to refugees, AP reported.
The visit was reportedly to show a united Christian response to the humanitarian crisis in Europe, where thousands of refugees, mostly from Syria, are seeking asylum.
“This is a voyage marked by sadness… We will witness the worst humanitarian disaster since the Second World War,” Pope Francis told reporters during the journey to Greece, according to the BBC, adding: “We will see so many people who are suffering, who are fleeing and do not know where to go. And we are also going to a cemetery, the sea. So many people never arrived.”
The BBC report also said that the pope acknowledged the “great sacrifice” made by the people in the Moria camp and said that he wanted to “draw the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis.”
He also called on the world to show “common humanity” in dealing with the refugee crisis and told the residents at the camp not to lose hope. “The greatest gift we can offer to one another is love,” the pope said.
The pope was greeted at the Lesbos Mytilene airport by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Archbishop of Athens leronimos II.
Pope Francis Calls for World Action on Greece Refugees
Pope Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday, highlighting the plight of nearly 4,000 migrants, who, in the wake of the E.U.-Turkey deal, are in limbo waiting to see whether they’ll be granted asylum in Greece or be deported to Turkey.
The vatican also announced the Pope would bring 12 refugees, all of whom are Muslim, back with him to Italy. The Vatican is already hosting two refugee families.
Putting aside a schism stretching back centuries, the pontiff made the visit along with Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Istanbul, and Ieronymos II, head of the Greek Orthodox Church.
“This is a voyage marked by sadness,” he told reporters on the plane from Rome. “We will witness the worst humanitarian disaster since the Second World War.”
The airport of Mytilene, the main town on Lesbos, was on lockdown as the Pope’s Alitalia flight touched down just after 10 AM, bearing the flags of both Greece and the Vatican. Francis descended to the tarmac where he was greeted by Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, the Orthodox leaders and Spyros Galinos, the mayor of Lesbos.
“I am proud of this,” Tsipras told the Pope at a public meeting soon after his arrival. “Particularly at a time when some of our partners — even in the name of Christian Europe — were erecting walls and fences to prevent defenseless people from seeking a better life. That is why I consider that your visit is historic and important.”
The Pope’s visit highlights the ongoing nature of the migrant crisis: Just a few hours before he touched down, Frontex, the European border patrol agency, intercepted a dinghy carrying 41 Syrian and Iraqi migrants who had made the journey from Turkey. The refugees were detained and brought to shore on Mytilene.
Pope’s Lesbos Visit Puts Names, Faces on Refugees
Crux/Ines San Martin
“Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such.”
This Tweet, sent out by @Pontifex as Pope Francis was leaving Rome for a quick visit to the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday, was, in a nutshell, his entire message on the foray, which brought him to a detention camp for refugees attempting to make their way into Europe.
A guest of Greek Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos, and accompanied by Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Francis told the refugees he’d gone to Greece to “be with you and to hear your stories.”
“We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for resolution,” he said as he visited the Moria refugee camp turned detention center after the European Union and Turkey brokered a deal to deport refugees arriving on the Greek islands in rubber dinghies back to Turkey.
“As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf,” he added, appealing for the world to “heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.”
Francis’ trip, among the shortest of his papacy outside of Italy, included only two speeches and a prayer: One at the camp and one at the local port, where he met the citizens and the Catholic community.
The prayer was staged overlooking the Aegean Sea, which, as each of the three leaders said at one time or another, has become “a cemetery” for refugees.