Pope Francis spoke of empathy and mercy as he met Saturday with migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos. Then to demonstrate his message, he took 12 of them to the Vatican with him aboard the papal plane.
Francis made a well-publicized visit to the island, home to migrants and refugees who have fled war and violence in the Middle East and North Africa. The Pope invited three Syrian migrant families to go with him as he returned home, the Holy See Press Office said.
The Vatican will take responsibility for the three families, the statement said. All are from Syria.
“The Pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees, accompanying on his plane to Rome three families of refugees from Syria, 12 people in all, including six children,” the statement said.
These are people who were already in camps in Lesbos before a European Union-Turkey agreement in which anyone crossing into Greece illegally from Turkey will be returned. All three families are Muslim. Two families come from Damascus, and one from Deir Ezzor, the statement continued. “Their homes had been bombed.”
The families were selected in a lottery-type process, said Kathleen Prior, a spokeswoman for the humanitarian organization International Rescue Committee.
“The Pope has sent a strong message in relocating 12 people, including women and children, from three Syrian families from the camps on Lesbos,” Prior said. “These refugees were randomly selected and are the very few lucky ones.”
Little is known of the Pope’s plans for the families. The initial hospitality will be taken care of by the Community of Sant’Egidio.
According to its website, the Community of Sant’Egidio began in Rome in 1968, in the period following the Second Vatican Council.
“Today it is a movement of lay people and has more than 60,000 members, dedicated to evangelization and charity, in Rome, Italy and in more than 73 countries throughout the world,” the website says.
In an interview with journalists on the plane after leaving Greece, the Pope said all nations have the responsibility of welcoming refugees.
“I have always said that building walls is not a solution,” he said. “We saw walls during the last century and they did not resolve anything. We must build bridges. Bridges are built with intelligence, with dialogue, with integration.”U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi praised the pope’s gesture, calling it “a powerful demonstration of solidarity. It must inspire governments and societies in a world where the desperate plight of record numbers of forcibly displaced is too often met by barriers, rejection and fear.”
Culled from CNN.com