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Pope rescues refugees, signs treaty on Lesbos

Pope Francis said his decision to fly Syrian refugees back to the Vatican with him from the Greek island of Lesbos was ‘an inspiration of the Holy Spirit.’

In the end, he said, the 12 Syrians—members of three families, including six children—had all the necessary papers from the Greek and Italian governments in time to fly with the Pope. The fact that the 12 are all Muslims did not enter into the equation, the Pope said. “I gave priority to children of God.”

“What I saw today and what you saw in that refugee camp—it makes you weep,” the Pope told reporters on his flight back to the Vatican. “Look what I brought to show you,” the Pope told them as he held up some of the drawings the children in the camp had given him. “Look at this, this one saw a child drown.”

During his visit to meet refugees on Lesbos last Saturday, the Pope was joined by Orthodox leaders and urged the international community to not ‘ignore the colossal humanitarian crisis’ caused by armed conflict throughout the world. As well as giving speeches, the Holy Father, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and all Greece also spent time greeting the refugees individually and listening to their stories.

An Iraqi woman asked for the assistance of the Pope and patriarch in finding medical care for her daughter with bone cancer. Another woman kept saying, in English, “We are very tired here.” A man told the Pope that he had a brother and sister in Canada and was trying to join them. Another man pleaded with Pope Francis, “Please, Father, bless me. Father, please, bless me.”

It was after briefly greeting each other at Lesbos’s Mytilene airport that the Pope and Orthodox leaders rode together in a minibus to the Moria refugee camp, a facility that a year ago was an open centre where migrants and refugees could file requests for asylum. Today it is a locked facility surrounded by walls topped with razor wire where some 2500 newcomers wait out the slow process of discovering whether their asylum requests will be accepted or they will be put on a ferry and taken back to Turkey. Most of the refugees are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and set sail for Greece in inflatable boats from the nearby Turkish coast.

The Pope told those interned at the camp that they wanted to call the world’s attention to the refugee crisis in the hopes ‘that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.’ God created all people to be brothers and sisters, the Pope said, but it is so easy for many people ‘to ignore other people’s suffering and even to exploit their vulnerability.’

The Pope urged the refugees to ‘not lose hope.’

Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos signed a joint declaration at the refugee camp insisting the world ‘cannot ignore the colossal humanitarian crisis created by the spread of violence and armed conflict, the persecution and displacement of religious and ethnic minorities and the uprooting of families from their homes.’ The three leaders insisted that dignified care must be given to those who felt forced to flee their homelands, but they also pleaded with world leaders to get serious about addressing the wars, human rights violations and extreme poverty that cause millions to leave their homelands each year.


—This story ran in full in the April 22 edition print of the SCO, available in parishes.

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