16 April 2016

Pope's moving encounter with migrants at Moria camp in Lesbos


(Vatican Radio) “You are not alone”. That was Pope Francis’ message to migrants and refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos where up to half a million asylum seekers have arrived over the past year and a half - Radiovaticana.va.

Pope Francis greets migrants at Moria refugee camp in Lesbos during his brief visit to the Greek island on Saturday - EPA

His brief visit to the island, alongside Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Orthodox Archbishop Hieronymus of Athens, aimed to draw international attention to the plight of all those fleeing across the Mediterranean sea to escape conflict and persecution in their home countries.

This was Pope Francis’ 13th journey outside Italy, but as he told journalists on the short plane trip over from Rome to Mytilene, the capital of Lesbos, this visit was different. It was a visit, he said, marked by sadness for the suffering of so many people caught up in the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

As he did during his first pastoral journey to the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2013, the Pope was able to see and hear that suffering first hand. In the eyes of women, unable to contain tears as they told of losing husbands to the wars in Syria and Iraq.
In the voices of men, weeping openly as they pleaded for him to do something to ensure security for them and their families. In the drawings which children handed to the Pope on crumpled pieces of paper, depicting themselves behind barbed wire fences or in boats making the perilous journey on which many of their friends have drowned.

The Pope and the two Orthodox leaders spent almost an hour walking around the Moria camp, set up to welcome refugees, but since last month’s agreement between the EU and Ankara, transformed into a detention centre where people wait anxiously to learn whether they’ll be sent back to Turkey, or allowed to join family and friends in other European countries. The religious leaders held hands, listened to the stories, gave a blessing and promised to do whatever they can.

Speaking after these visibly moving encounters, Pope Francis said we all know how easy it is “to ignore other people’s suffering and even to exploit their vulnerability”. But he also praised the solidarity of the Greek people who’ve responded generously to the crisis amid their own economic difficulties. Lesbos alone is currently home to almost 90.000 refugees, more than its original population before the crisis began.

Do not lose hope, the Pope said, urging world leaders to “heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.” His words were echoed by those of Archbishop Hieronymus and Patriarch Bartholomew who said the world will be judged by the way it treats these refugees.

The Patriarch highlighted especially the plight of Christians and other minorities in the region, who need urgent action to guarantee their survival. “We promise that we shall never forget you”, he said, “we will do everything to open the eyes and hearts of the world”.
It was the image of a little Syrian boy’s body, washed up on a Turkish beach last year, that did open eyes and hearts to the unfolding tragedy, causing thousands of volunteers to offer all kinds of support to migrants and refugees.

The Pope, the Patriarch and the Archbishop will be hoping that the images of their short but symbolic visit will open hearts and minds of political leaders across Europe, to look beyond short term interests and find lasting solutions to guarantee safety and dignity to so many suffering families.

Канадская служба новостей(КСН)

Valery Rubin

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