Ahead of Greece trip, Pope Francis asks for prayers

CNA photo Pope Francis at the weekly general audience Apr 13, 2016. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

With a last-minute trip to Lesbos just days away, Pope Francis remembered the refugees and residents of the Greek island during his general audience address, and asked for prayers ahead of his one-day journey.

"Next Saturday I will go to the island of Lesbos, through which so many refugees have passed in recent months," the Pope said at the conclusion of the April 13 audience.

He asked pilgrims at the general audience to accompany him in prayer, "invoking the light and strength of the Holy Spirit and the maternal intercession of the Virgin Mary."

The Vatican announced on April 7 that Pope Francis would be traveling to the island just nine days later, this Saturday, April 16. Lesbos has been one the primary destinations of migrants fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria and Afghanistan who seek entry into the E.U.

With a financially stressed economy, Greece has been largely unprepared for the thousands of migrants who have shown up on its shores.

In 2015 alone more than 1.1 million migrants fleeing war and violence poured into Europe, and the influx has continued. Many Syrians seeking to escape the civil war which has devastated their country for the past five years enter Europe through Turkey, taking boats to the Greek isles.

Although the Vatican hasn't yet issued an itinerary for the visit, Holy See Press Office director Fr Federico Lombardi has confirmed that the Pope will be meeting with refugees. A large public gathering is also expected.

The visit has been organized with the Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, and the Archbishop of Athens and all Greece, Hieronimus II. During the April 13 audience, Pope Francis called the two Orthodox bishops who will be accompanying him on the day-trip his "brothers."

"I will go together with (them) to express my closeness and solidarity to the refugees and citizens of Lesbos and to all the Greek people (who are) so generous in their welcoming," Pope Francis said.

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