Pope Francis Brings 12 Muslim Syrian Refugees to Rome After Greece Visit

Pope Francis
Pope Francis kisses the foot of a refugee during the foot washing ritual at the Castelnuovo di Porto refugees center near Rome, Italy, March 24, 2016. |

After his five-hour visit to Greece, Pope Francis took three families of Syrian Muslim refugees, including six children, back to Rome aboard the papal plane on Saturday.

The pontiff met refugees in a fenced complex on the Aegean island of Lesbos in Greece, where adults and children broke down in tears before him, according to Reuters.

"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 Vatican said in a statement.

The homes of the three families had been bombed in the Syrian war.

"Though many of their graves bear no name, to you each one is known, loved and cherished," Francis prayed at the Moria refugee camp in Lesbos, according to Catholic News Agency. "Wake us from the slumber of indifference, open our eyes to their suffering and free us from the insensitivity born of world comfort and self-centeredness."

In his prayer, the pope said, "We are all migrants, journeying in hope" toward God in heaven.

On the plane, Francis told reporters that one of his aides came up with the idea of bringing a few refugees back with him to Rome. "I felt the Spirit was talking to us… Everything was done according to the rules," he was quoted as saying.

The pope also said it was not deliberate that all refugees who were brought to Rome were Muslims. He explained that the papers of two Christian families that had originally been on the list were not in order.

"We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution," Francis said during his visit to the Moria camp, where leaders of Eastern Orthodox Christian churches joined him, according to The New York Times.

"As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf," the pope added. "We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity."

Francis also urged Europe to act according to its claim of being "the homeland of human rights."

"Whoever sets foot on European soil ought to sense this, and thus become more aware of the duty to respect and defend those rights," Francis said.

Hundred of thousands of people from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere are fleeing violence, persecution, civil wars and poverty, and are searching for asylum. The European Union, however, has detained several migrants arriving in Greece and deported some back to their countries of origin.

Praising the people of Lesbos, who have helped refugees, the pope added, "In these lands, the cradle of civilization, the heart of humanity continues to beat; a humanity that before all else recognizes others as brothers and sisters, a humanity that wants to build bridges and recoils from the idea of putting up walls to make us feel safer. In reality, barriers create divisions instead of promoting the true progress of peoples, and divisions sooner or later lead to confrontations."

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