Pope Francis takes 12 Muslim refugees to Rome 

Published on: 1:46 am, April 17, 2016 Story By: mattersindia.com

MYTILENE, Greece: Pope Francis Saturday visited the heart of Europe’s migrant crisis and took 12 Muslim refugees of three families from Syria with him back to Rome.

The action punctuated the pope’s pleas for sympathy to the crisis confronting the refugees just as European attitudes arehardening against them.

Two of those taken to Rome were from Damascus and one from Deir al-Zour. Their homes had been bombed in the Syrian war, a Vatican statement said. The Pope departed the Greek island of Lesbos after visiting the Moria refugee camp. “The Pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees,” the statement said.

The announcement capped a brief trip by the Pope to Greece that again placed the plight of migrants at the center of his papacy.

“We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution,” Pope Francis said during a lunchtime visit to the Moria camp, where leaders of Eastern Orthodox Christian Churches joined him.

“As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf,” the Pope continued. “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.”

While the announcement had the appearance of a surprise, the Pope told reporters on the plane ride home that the relocation of the refugees had involved planning and paperwork by the governments of the Vatican, Italy and Greece. In Rome, the Catholic charitable association Sant’Egidio will help care for the families and try to find them work.

While papal visits to refugee camps are not new, religious scholars said Francis’ rescue of the 12 Syrians sent an important signal that reflected his long history of affinity with the world’s most vulnerable, dating to his roots as a Jesuit priest in Argentina, reports ekathimerini.com.

“Welcoming the stranger is the heart of the Christian message,” said Charles Camosy, a professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University in New York. While Francis is often seen as a progressive pope, Mr. Camosy said, he also is “pushing a more traditional understanding of what Christianity is all about.”

Francis’ first papal trip in 2013 was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, to call attention to the refugees who were arriving there from Libya — or drowning before they reached shore. During his February visit to Mexico, Francis prayed beneath a large cross erected in Ciudad Juárez, just footsteps from the border with the United States, and then celebrated Mass nearby, where he spoke about immigrants.

Upon landing in Lesbos on Saturday, Francis held a brief private meeting with Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, before traveling across the island to the detention center in Moria, where people are held as they await rulings on their asylum applications — or as they wait to be deported under a recent agreement struck between the European Union and Turkey to curb migration.

Beginning last summer, hundreds of thousands of migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have poured into Lesbos after paying smugglers to make the short sea journey from Turkey. The procession through Greece and the Balkans toward Germany plunged the European Union into a political crisis and eventually led several countries to restrict or close their borders.

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