Pope Francis' visit to Greece shows a shared Christian concern for refugees

Refugees in Athens. Credit: Natalia Tsoukala/Caritas.
Refugees in Athens. Credit: Natalia Tsoukala/Caritas.

.- Pope Francis’ visit on Saturday with refugees in Greece will show solidarity with those in need and demonstrate a shared Christian commitment to helping them, according to the Vatican spokesman.

Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, said the April 16 visit to the island of Lesbos is “fundamentally humanitarian” in purpose. It is “rooted in Pope Francis’ concern for migrants, a concern that the Pope shares with the Greek Orthodox Church and with Patriarch Bartholomew.”

The Pope will meet with refugees and lunch with them. Then he will sign a joint declaration with two Eastern Orthodox archbishops: Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, and Ieronymos II of Athens.
 
Lesbos is often labeled as the “Lampedusa of Greece.” Lampedusa is the Italian island which represent a waypoint for thousands of refugees and migrants fleeing Africa and aiming for Europe. Pope Francis visited that small island in his first trip as Roman Pontiff, in July 2013.
 
Greece is a route by refugees arriving from Syria, seeking safety in Europe.

Just as Lampedusa is closer to Africa than to Italy, Lesbos is closer to Turkey than to the Greek mainland: it is separated from Turkey by the Mytilini Strait, which at its narrowest is fewer than four miles wide.

Fr. Lombardi also noted that the shores of Turkey can be seen from Lesbos. It is this proximity is why thousands of refugees head there.

Fr. Lombardi presented the program of the papal visit to Lesbos at an April 14 press conference.

Pope Francis will arrive in Greece at 10:20 a.m. local time on Saturday. He will be received by the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop Ieronymos, and Bishop Franghiskos Papamanolis, Bishop Emeritus of Syros and president of the Greek Bishops’ Conference.
 
After a private meeting with the Tsipras, the Pope will move by bus to Moria Refugee Camp with the Eastern Orthodox bishops. The camp houses some 2,500 asylum seekers.
 
The three religious leaders will be welcomed at the camp by about 150 youths. They will pass through the central courtyard where refugees are registered and arrive at a tent. There, they will greet about 250 asylum seekers.
 
After this private meeting, the three religious leaders will each deliver a speech. Afterwards, they will sign a joint declaration.
 
Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew, and Archbishop Ieronymos will have lunch with some refugees.
 
After lunch, they will move by bus to the port of Mitylene, the capital of the island, where they wil meet with local citizens and with the Catholic community.
 
After a ceremony in memory of those migrants who have been victims or lost their lives en route, Pope Francis will deliver a speech.

Each of the three religious leaders will say a prayer, and will all observe a moment of silence. Then each of the three leaders will receive a laurel crown each from children, launching the wreaths into the sea.
 
The Pope will then travel to the airport. Before he leaves, he will have three separate private meetings: with Archbishop Ieronymos, with Patriarch Bartholomew, and again with the Tsipras.
 
During the visit, several Vatican leaders will accompany the Pope. These include Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, and the deputy of the Vatican Secretariat of State, Archbishop Angelo Becciu.

Michel Roy, general secretary of Caritas Internationalis, told CNA March 2 that the pressure of refugees on Greece is “enormous.”

“If the refugees get to the small Greek island and cannot move toward Bulgaria or Macedonia, there is huge pressure on Greece, very hardly manageable,” he said.

An estimated 100,000 refugees are expected to arrive at Lesbos within the year. The island itself has only 90,000 inhabitants.
 
The European Union and Turkey have reached an agreement on refugees. Both the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees and Doctors Without Borders have left the refugee facilities there.

Under the agreement, the detained refugees will be sent back to Turkey. Turkey will receive additional E.U. financial aid and will take part in an E.U. resettlement program for refugees.
 
Cardinal Antonio Maria Vegliò, president of the Pontifical Council for Migrants, expressed “perplexities” over the agreement in an April 6 interview with Vatican Radio.

He commented: “the poor refugees are not postage things … they are people! I think that a state should behave with a very human approach, because we are talking about people.”

Tags: Ecumenism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Asylum seekers, Lesbos, Pope Francis in Greece