Rome (AFP) – Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I has urged Europe to stop trying to divide economic migrants from asylum seekers as he prepares for Saturday’s hugely symbolic visit to the Greek island of Lesbos alongside Pope Francis.
Reiterating that Christians have a moral duty to show hospitality to strangers, Bartholomew said in an interview published Friday that Europe should take inspiration from the generosity of Lesbos residents confronted with a mass influx to their island.
“This question puts me in mind of St Paul’s letter to the Hebrews in which he reminds us not to forget hospitality because those who offer it have sometimes hosted angels without knowing it,” Bartholomew told Italian daily Il Messaggero.
“Hospitality represents a concrete example of love for our neighbour and the way all Christians should live their lives.”
The patriarch said Saturday’s trip to the Greek island at the centre of the migrant crisis would “send a strong message in every direction”.
“At this historic time and with the way the refugee crisis is developing, those people who can exercise influence have to work in this spirit.”
He went on to say that he agreed with Francis’s stance that distinctions between economic migrants, whom the EU says must always be returned to their countries of origin, and people fleeing conflict or repression is an artificial one.
“Pope Francis has repeatedly referred to the ills of contemporary models of development and we share his point of view,” he said.
“The globalisation of the world economy has created a serious crisis of identity for the contemporary world, hunger and misery in many parts of our planet, and this offends God himself.
“The segregation of certain groups of people to the advantage of others does not reflect His desire and in this context we must seek new and fairer economic systems.”
The visit by the religious leaders to Lesbos follows the conclusion last month of a controversial deal which aims to ensure that people arriving on the Greek islands without an asylum claim are quickly return to Turkey.