In a gesture brimming with symbolism, Pope Francis on Saturday joined Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, on the Aegean island of Lesvos in order to make an appeal on behalf of the refugees that have fled to Europe and to bring attention to their plight. Together with Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and All Greece, the Pope and Patriarch issued a call of love, peace and solidarity toward the refugees while visiting the Moria hotspot on Lesvos, the island that has been at the centre of a refugee crisis that reached epic proportions since early 2015.
“You are not alone,” was Pope Francis’ message to the refugees that he met in the courtyard in the Moria refugee centre. He also praised the generosity of the Greek people in their handling of the refugee crisis, noting that they had responded to the needs even though Greece was going through a difficult time of economic crisis.
“I came here with my brothers, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos simply to stand beside you, to hear your stories. We came to again bring to the world’s attention this serious humanitarian crisis and to appeal for a solution to be found. We want to join our voices with yours and speak in your name as people of faith,” the Pope said.
“We travelled here to hear your voices and look you in the eyes. Those that fear you have not looked you in the eyes. Those that fear you do not see your faces, they do not see your children,” said Patriarch Bartholomew, while noting that the Mediterranean should not be allowed to become a graveyard and should be a sea of peace.
“Only those that see the eyes of these little children can at once understand the full extent of the bankruptcy of humanity and solidarity that Europe has displayed in recent years toward these people,” said Archbishop Ieronymos.
After concluding their speeches, the three religious leaders signed a joint declaration appealing to the international community to respond with courage to the immense humanitarian crisis and “the tragedy of forced migration and displacement,” as well as the deeper causes of this situation. They called for action through diplomatic, political and charitable initiatives, and through collective efforts, both in the Middle East and in Europe.
They urged “solidarity, compassion, generosity and immediate, practical commitment of resources,” in response to a humanitarian crisis caused by the “spread of violence and armed conflict, persecution and the displacement of religious and ethnic minorities, the uprooting of families from their homes, in violation of human dignity and of fundamental human rights and freedoms.”
Pope Francis arrived on the island by plane on Saturday morning and was met at Mytilene airport by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos.