Vatican: Pope’s Visit to Migrants on Greek Island ‘Purely Humanitarian’

In a press conference Thursday Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi denied a political agenda behind Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to the Greek island of Lesbos, insisting that the visit is “purely humanitarian and ecumenical.”

Father Lombardi outlined the program for the Pope’s trip, providing details of the brief visit that Francis will make on Saturday, April 16, including the signing of a “joint declaration” at the Mòria Refugee Camp by the three religious leaders present for the occasion: Archbishop Hieronymos, Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis.

Lombardi said that the humanitarian dimension of the trip is “obvious,” with Francis wanting to be close to the thousands of migrants on the island who are waiting to “continue their journey to a better life.”

The ecumenical dimension, which seeks unity among the different Christian churches, “is represented by the combined presence of the three leaders of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity,” Lombardi said.

The three leaders will “bend together over the wounds of the refugees,” he said. This gesture will be an expression of joint concern for the “populations forced to emigrate” and of willingness to offer his closeness and assistance to refugees as well as to the local population and that of all of Greece.

These are the only motives for the Pope’s trip, Lombardi stated, and “there are no others.”

Last month, however, Pope Francis appealed to the nations of the world to open their hearts and their doors to migrants who are standing “at the border,” in reference to the many migrants camped at key border positions trying to enter Europe.

Lesbos has been called the “gateway to Europe” because of the enormous number of migrants arriving weekly to its shores, en route to European countries further north.

The Pope’s entire trip will last less than a day, with Francis scheduled to leave Rome’s airport at 7:00am and return later the same day, touching down back in Rome at 4:30pm.

The main destination of the visit is the Mòria refugee camp, the temporary home to some 2,500 asylum-seekers, where the Pope will greet a group of about 150 minors, followed by another meeting with 250 asylum seekers, Lombardi said. The Pope and the other two leaders will deliver brief addresses and then sign their joint declaration on the migrant crisis.

After lunch, the Pope will meet with the island’s small Roman Catholic population, joined by Catholics from other Greek islands in the vicinity.

Before leaving for the airport, the three religious leaders will recite together a short prayer for the victims of migration, pausing afterward for a minute of silence. The three will then symbolically cast three woven crowns of laurel leaves into the sea.

With surface area of 630 square miles and a population of over 90 thousand inhabitants, Lesbos is the third largest Greek island and the eighth largest island in the Mediterranean. Because of its geographical position, it has been the preferred arrival point for Syrian refugees and others from the Middle East disembarking from Turkey to travel to Europe.

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