Vatican City, Jun 17, 2020 / 15:15 pm
As his general audience came to a close Wednesday, Pope Francis praised Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat who helped tens of thousands of Jews and others to flee from advancing Nazi forces.
"Today is the 'Day of Conscience', inspired by the witness of the Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes, who around 80 years ago decided to follow the voice of his conscience and saved the lives of thousands of Jews and other persecuted peoples," Pope Francis said June 17 in the Library of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.
In 1940, Sousa Mendes served as the Portugese consul in Bordeaux, which received an outpouring of refugees feeling the Nazi regime. Many of them sought refuge in Portugal, a neutral nation in World War II, which offered the possibility of safe travel across the Atlantic.
Overwhelmed with refugees, the Portugese government issued a directive that barred refugees from entering the csountry. The directive especially targeted those who could not return to their country of origin, which made it impossible for Jews to obtain a visa, according to a biography from the Sousa Mendes Foundation.