(AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
In his most recent act of compassion and solidarity, Pope Francis returned to Rome with 12 Syrian refugees with him aboard the papal plane following his visit to the Greek Island of Lesbos.
Lesbos currently sits at the center of Europe’s migrant crisis. It has become one of the primary ports of entry for the individuals and families fleeing conflicts across the Middle East and seeking refuge in Europe. Austria and several Balkan nations shut their borders to refugees in early March, stranding more than 50,000 people in Greece.
Pope Francis – who has long directed much of his discourse towards the needs of migrants and refugees — visited the Greek Island Saturday, once again leading by example and showing that his words are reinforced by actions.
While in Lesbos, Pope Francis visited the Moria Refugee camp, meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and Archbishop Ieronymos II – the leaders of Eastern Orthodox Christian churches. They addressed the necessity of empathetically addressing the issue of the swelling migrant populations both inside the camp and of those continuing to flood into and throughout Europe.
“We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution,” Pope Francis said during the joint visit to the Moria Camp. He went on to say:
We Christians love to tell the story of the Good Samaritan, a foreigner who saw a man in need and immediately stopped to help. For us, it is a story about God’s mercy which is meant for everyone, for God is the All-Merciful. It is also a summons to show that same mercy to those in need. May all our brothers and sisters on this continent, like the Good Samaritan, come to your aid in the spirit of fraternity, solidarity and respect for human dignity that has distinguished its long history."
The three leaders prayed for the many men, women and children who perished attempting the short though incredibly dangerous journey to Europe from Turkey in over-crowded, unseaworthy boats. Before enormous crowds the three led a minute of silence then each threw floral wreath into the Aegean sea in remembrance of those lives lost.
Concluding his visit, Pope Francis met three families, comprised of a total of 12 people including six children, on the tarmac. They all then boarded the Papal plane for the return trip to Rome where the Catholic charitable association, Sant’Egidio, will help care for the families and help them find work.
In a published statement, the Vatican announced that all of the members of the three families are Muslim and come from regions that have been destroyed by armed conflicts with the Islamic State. All of their homes had been bombed.
This trip, while a powerful message, is nothing new from this pontiff. Pope Francis has established a pattern of visiting and assisting people in need — from those living in homeless shelters in America, reported the Washtington Post, to slums and prisons of South American, noted CNN. His first trip outside Rome after being elected pontiff in 2013 was Lampedusa, the Italian island at the center of their migrant crisis, receiving refugees making the crossing from Tunisia.
“You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.” the Pope once stated, affirming his consistent message of combining prayer with action.
The refugees pulled from the Moria camp in Lesbos were reportedly chosen because all of their documents were assembled, not as a political message. The Associated Press reports that the Catholic charity Sant'Egidio released a few details about the refugees upon their arrival in Rome:
Hasan and Nour, both engineers, and their 2-year-old son fled their home in Zabadani, a mountainous area on the outskirts of the Syrian capital of Damascus that has been heavily bombed. They headed to Turkey and took a boat across the Aegean Sea to Lesbos....
Ramy and Suhila, a couple in their 50s, came from Deir el-Zour, a Syrian city close to the Iraqi border which has been devastated in street-by-street fighting between Islamic State fighters and government troops. They arrived in Greece with their three children in February via Turkey. Ramy is a teacher, Suhila a tailor, Sant'Egidio said.
The third family, Osama and Wafa, hail from the Damascus suburb of Zamalka. Their youngest still wakes each night — and even stopped speaking for a time — apparently due to the trauma of the war and the journey to Europe.
When asked if his gesture would change the European debate about what to do with the war refugees trying to the continent, Pope Francis quoted Mother Teresa: "It's a drop of water in the sea. But after this drop, the sea will never be the same."