Pope offers solidarity to refugees
Pope Francis, accompanied by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Ieronymus II, made an emotional visit to the Moria camp on Lesbos, which houses 250 refugees, on Saturday. In moving address he told them:
"You are not alone. In these weeks and months, you have endured much suffering in your search for a better life. Many of you felt forced to flee situations of conflict and persecution for the sake, above all, of your children, your little ones. You have made great sacrifices for your families. You know the pain of having left behind everything that is dear to you and - what is perhaps most difficult - not knowing what the future will bring. Many others like you are also in camps or towns, waiting, hoping to build a new life on this continent.
I have come here .. simply to be with you and to hear your stories. We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution. As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf. We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.”
He concluded by exhorting the refugees no to lose hope: "the greatest gift we can offer one another is love: a merciful look, a readiness to listen and understand, a word of encouragement, a prayer."
The three religious leaders had lunch with eight refugees to hear their stories of fleeing war, conflict and poverty and their hopes for a better life in Europe. And then they prayed together, tossing a floral wreath into the sea in memory of those who didn’t make it.
At the end of the visit the issued a joint declaration which calls on the international community to respond with generosity and compassion to the tragedy of forced migration, calling it a 'crisis of humanity'.
"For our part, in obedience to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, we firmly and wholeheartedly resolve to intensify our efforts to promote the full unity of all Christians... By defending the fundamental human rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, and the many marginalized people in our societies, we aim to fulfil the Churches' mission of service to the world."
In conclusion, the declaration urges the international community to "make the protection of human lives a priority and, at every level, to support inclusive policies which extend to all religious communities. The terrible situation of all those affected by the present humanitarian crisis, including so many of our Christian brothers and sisters, calls for our constant prayer”.
Pope Francis returned to the Vatican with three Muslim Syrian families including six children, whose homes had been destroyed by shelling. The Director of the Holy See's Press Office, Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, said the Pope wished to show welcome and solidarity to the refugees . The Vatican will covering the costs of their care. Father Lombardi said the Sant'Egidio community will provide accommodation when they arrive in Rome.