06 April 2016
Christopher Lamb in Rome
Pope to visit refugees on island of Lesbos
Reports say the visit to the Greek island could take place as early as 15 April
Pope Francis is planning a visit to Greece, a move that will throw him into the heart of a European debate over the migrant crisis.
The Vatican confirmed last night that initial contacts have been made about a possible trip to the country that has begun sending migrants back to Turkey under a controversial new European Union agreement.
The Holy See has criticised the plan with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, saying: “We should feel it humiliating to shut doors, as if humanitarian law, won with such toil by our Europe, no longer has a place here.”
In a statement the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church said the Pope had expressed a desire to visit and it was recommended he go to the island of Lesbos, which has become the main port of arrival for refugees fleeing war and persecution.
The orthodox church added that the ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew, the “first among equals” leader of the Eastern Orthodox church, had been invited to Lesbos for the Pope’s visit, which reports say could take place on 15 April.
Francis has made support for refugees a key part of his pontificate and over Easter repeatedly criticised world authorities for turning their backs on the plight of migrants.
In a powerful prayer at the Colosseum on Good Friday the Pope described the Aegean and Mediterranean seas - where many refugees have died after their makeshift boats collapsed - as “insatiable cemeteries, reflections of our indifferent and anaesthetised conscience”. Last year, he called on European parishes and religious communities to take in refugees.
Francis’ first visit outside of Rome as Pope was to Lampedusa, an island in southern Italy which became a place of arrival for refugees from North Africa. That trip in 2013 powerfully highlighted the plight of those risking everything in search of a better life.
Since then, however, the unprecedented numbers of new arrivals in Europe have seen many countries tighten their borders. Francis has urged world leaders to come up with solutions to the crisis while recognising the huge pressure it has placed on the old continent.
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