Pope Francis has kicked off his pastoral visit to the Greek Island of Lesbos to meet with refugees.
This morning at 7 a.m., Pope Francis and his papal entourage and journalists departed from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, and a little after 10 a.m. local time, ten minutes earlier then expected, they arrived at Mytilene International Airport. On the flight over, the Pontiff sent telegrams to heads of states of the countries over which he was flying, including to Italian president Sergio Mattarella.
On the same day as this visit to show solidarity with refugees, the Pope sent out the following tweet: ‘Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such.’
During a welcome ceremony, the Holy Father was received by the Prime Minister; by Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew; His Beatitude Ieronymos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, and, soon after, Msgr. Fragkiskos Papamanolis, president of the Greek Episcopal Conference.
After the welcoming ceremony in the presence of civil authorities and the Churches, in an airport lounge, the Pope met privately Prime Minister Tsipras during which he expressed his gratitude to the Greek people, “the cradle of humanity.”
Greece, the Holy Father said, “continues to give an example of humanity” and “boldly show this generosity.”
According to a note from Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, the main topic discussed during the meeting was the crisis of refugees and migrants, and in particular the situation on the island of Lesbos. It was stressed that the refugee crisis is a European and international problem that requires a comprehensive response that respects the European and international laws.
The Pope, the Vatican spokesman stated, appreciated the humane attitude of the Greek people, that despite the tough economic situation, they have shown solidarity and commitment to universal values. In addition, the need to protect people from risking their lives crossing the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean was emphasized, along with the need to fight human trafficking.
The Pope’s visit today includes traveling to the Moria Refugee Camp, where some 2,500 have taken refuge, with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and His Beatitude Ieronymos, Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece. There, the Pope and patriarchs will give discourses, and later the religious leaders will sign a joint declaration and have lunch with refugees.