In a clear signal to Europe, Pope Francis has allowed three refugee families to accompany him on his charter plane. Francis was on the Greek island of Lesbos to shed light on the refugees’ plight.
The Vatican said on Saturday that Francis’ decision was a “gesture of welcome” for the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Central Asia and Afghanistan.
Three families – two from Damascus and one from the “Islamic State”-held Deir el-Zour – accompanied the pope on his charter plane to Italy. The group of refugees totaled 12 people, including the six children.
“Today I renew my heartfelt plea for responsibility and solidarity in the face of this tragic situation,” Francis said.
A ‘common humanity’
Lots were drawn to decide which individuals would be allowed to go with the pope, reported DW correspondent Bernd Riegert, who was on the scene as the plane departed.
The refugee families, which include six children, are to be taken in by the Vatican and will be initially cared for by the Rome-based lay community of Sant’Egidio.
An emotional meeting
Overwhelmed by the Francis’ visit, refugees reportedly sobbed and fell to their knees in his presence. Some even reportedly asked to be blessed by him.
After the visit, Francis had lunch with some of the refugees and then, along with the head of the Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Athens Archbishop Ieronymos II, signed a declaration calling for their protection.
Refugees were also seen holding signs emblazoned with slogans such as “Pope you are our hope,” “please save Yazidi people,” “we are also human” and “Welcome Pope Francis.”
blc/rc (AP, Reuters, AFP)