In Greece, Pope Francis tells migrants 'you are not alone'

In Greece, Pope Francis tells migrants 'you are not alone'

Pope Francis meets with refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos April 16, 2016. Credit: LOR.
Pope Francis meets with refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos April 16, 2016. Credit: LOR.

.- Pope Francis had a simple message for the thousands of refugees now staying on the Greek island of Lesbos: you are not forgotten.

“I have wanted to be with you today. I want to tell you that you are not alone,” Pope Francis told some 3,000 refugees during his April 16 visit.
 
“In these weeks and months, you have endured much suffering in your search for a better life,” he said. He explained that he and the other religious leaders present came not just “to be with you and to hear your stories,” but also to “call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution.”

Pope Francis praised the Greek people for the help they have given in spite of their own economic difficulties. At the same time, he said, “so much more needs to be done.”

He said “this is the message I want to leave with you today: do not lose hope!” He added that love is “the greatest gift we can offer one another.”

He pointed to the parable of the Good Samaritan. He prayed that everyone in Europe would imitate the Samaritan and “come to your aid in the spirit of fraternity, solidarity and respect for human dignity that has distinguished its long history.”

Pope Francis spoke to the thousands of migrants currently staying in the Moria refugee camp on Lesbos. The camp was his first stop on his brief trip to the small Greek island.

His trip was intended as a sign of concern and solidarity for migrants forced to flee their homelands due to war, violence, hunger and poverty.

Lesbos, along with its neighboring island Kos, has been one of the primary destinations for refugees. Many of them are fleeing war in Syrian and Afghanistan. They have sought to make the sometimes perilous voyage across the Mediterranean to enter Europe.  

In 2015 alone more than 1.1 million migrants fleeing war and violence poured into Europe. The influx has continued, leaving E.U. leaders perplexed at to how to handle the crisis.

Pope Francis’ visit to Lesbos falls barely one month after the E.U. struck a new deal with Turkey stipulating that all migrants and refugees who cross into Greece illegally by sea will be sent back to Turkey once they have been registered and their asylum claims processed.

In return, the E.U. agreed to take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey. They gave Turkish citizens visa-free travel early and advanced talks on their E.U. membership negotiations.

But thousands of refugees that have landed on Lesbos have been stuck on the island with no clear resolution in sight.

When Pope Francis arrived at the airport of Lesbos in Mytilene, he was welcomed by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras; the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I; His Beatitude Ieronymos, Archbishop of Athens and all Greece and Archbishop Fragkiskos Papamanolis, OFM Cap, President of the Greek Bishops Conference.

He then held a private, brief meeting with Tsipras at the airport. According to an April 16 communique from the Vatican, the discussion focused on the current refugee and migration crisis, with particular attention to the situation on Lesbos.

The Pope then boarded a minibus with Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos destined for the Moria refugee camp.

In his speech at the camp, Archbishop Ieronymos said the Pope’s presence in Greece is “pivotal,” since “together we bring forward before the whole world, Christian and beyond, the current tragedy of the refugee crisis.”

“Today we unite our voices in condemning their uprooting, to decry any form of degradation of the human person,” the Greek Orthodox archbishop said. He called on U.N. agencies “to finally, using the great experience that they offer, address this tragic situation that we are living.”

“I hope that we never see children washing up on the shores of the Aegean. I hope to soon see them there, untroubled, enjoying life.”

Patriarch Bartholomew also spoke, telling the refugees directly that as ecumenical leaders they have come “to look into your eyes, to hear your voices, and to hold your hands.”

“We have traveled here to tell you that we care. We have traveled here because the world has not forgotten you,” he said, explaining that migration is a global issue.

He said the world “will be judged by the way it has treated you. And we will all be accountable for the way we respond to the crisis and conflict in the regions that you come from.”

Bartholomew pointed specifically to the plight of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East who face violent persecution and ethnic cleansing. He assured the migrants that “we shall never forget you. We shall never stop speaking for you. And we assure you that we will do everything to open the eyes and hearts of the world.”

After speaking to the refugees, the leaders signed a joint declaration on the migration issue and ate lunch with some of the refugees in a container just behind the podium.

Following their lunch, the small delegation boarded the minibus again and made their way to a port. There they met with Greek citizens and members of the Catholic community of Greece. They held a memorial for the thousands victims of migration, many of whom have perished in the waters of the Mediterranean.

Speaking to the crowd gathered there, Pope Francis said he has wanted to visit the island “ever since migrants arrived here seeking peace and dignity.”

He acknowledged the worries expressed by numerous people and institutions, both in Greece and in other European countries, and said these concerns are “understandable and legitimate.”

However, the Pope also noted that despite the various concerns, migrants are not simply “a statistic” but are “first of all persons who have faces, names and individual stories.”

“Europe is the homeland of human rights, and whoever sets foot on European soil ought to sense this, and thus become more aware of the duty to respect and defend those rights,” he said.

The Pope stressed that in order to be truly united to those forced to leave their homelands, the causes of this “dramatic situation” must be eliminated first.

“It is not enough to limit ourselves to responding to emergencies as they arise,” he said. “Instead, we need to encourage political efforts that are broader in scope and multilateral.”

Above all peace must be built where there is war and destruction, the Pope said. The first step in this process is to make resolute efforts “to counter the arms trade and arms trafficking, and the often hidden machinations associated with them.”

“Those who carry out acts of hatred and violence must be denied all means of support,” the Pope said, and encouraged increased cooperation between international organizations and humanitarian agencies.

Pope Francis stressed to the migrants that “God is neither indifferent to, nor distant from, the tragedies that wound humanity.”

Not only does he come to our aid, but through Jesus he shows us the way to peace, he told the Greek community. Only those who imitate Jesus in service are capable of building peace.

He concluded his speech by hailing the Greek people as “guardians of humanity” for the care they have shown to migrants.

“You care with tenderness for the body of Christ, who suffers in the least of his brothers and sisters, the hungry and the stranger, whom you have welcomed,” he said.

After the Pope’s speech each of the three religious leaders recited a brief prayer for the victims of migration and led faithful in a minute of silence. Three children then gave each of them a laurel wreath.

All three together threw the wreaths into the sea, where thousands of migrants have lost their lives.

Pope Francis returned to the airport with the religious leaders. He met privately with each of them and again met with the Greek Prime Minister. He then boarded the plane back to Rome, arriving at 4:30 p.m. local time.

The Pope took 12 Syrian refugees back to Italy, including six children.

Tags: Catholic News, Refugees, Pope Francis, Pope Francis in Greece