In a show of solidarity with migrants, Pope Francis invited 21 Syrian refugees to lunch on Thursday at his residence at the Casa Santa Marta in Vatican City.
The Pope brought twelve of these migrants back to Rome on the papal plane after his visit to the Greek island of Lesbos last April. During that trip, Francis told his hearers that “we are all migrants” as he greeted the many asylum-seekers awaiting word regarding the processing of their cases.
The Vatican brought a second group of Syrian refugees to Rome in mid-June, also at the Pope’s invitation. Two of the nine refugees are Christians.
The migrants are currently living in Rome, hosted by the Sant’Egidio Community, a Catholic lay movement engaged in prayer, evangelization, international diplomacy, and works of solidarity with the poor and disenfranchised.
The new director of the Vatican Press Office, Greg Burke, said that all the adults and children in the group had the opportunity to speak with Francis Thursday, telling him about the beginning of their lives in Italy. “The children gave the Pope a collection of their drawings, and he in turn gave them toys and other gifts,” Burke added.
Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Sant’Egidio Community, along with other members of the group joined the Pope and the migrants for the lunch. Also present were the “sostituto” of the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Angelo Becciu, and the commander of the Vatican Gendarmerie, Domenico Giani, with two other members of the police force that had assisted in the transfer of families from Lesbos to Rome.
According to the Pew Research Center, more than 1 million immigrants applied for asylum in Europe between July 2015 and May 2016.
In past days, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened the European Union with sending some 3 million more migrants into Europe, if the EU does not accede to his request to allow Turkish citizens to travel freely into Europe without visas.
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