Details of papal visit to Greek island of Lesvos announced
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has announced the official program for Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to the Greek island of Lesvos, Greece, on Saturday, April 16, a visit intended to raise awareness and express solidarity with the plight of refugees and migrants.
“Lesbos … is very close to the Turkish coast, just a few kilometers away,” Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, told reporters at a press briefing on Thursday. “This is the reason so many migrants go to the island of Lesbos.”
Fr. Lombardi said the visit will have a humanitarian and ecumenical perspective. “It does not directly touch on political positions, or other such matters; rather, their focus is fundamentally humanitarian,” he said.
Pope Francis will depart for the one-day trip to the eastern Aegean island on Saturday at 7:00 a.m. (Rome time), and is scheduled to arrive at the airport of Mytilene at 10:20 a.m. local time (9:20 a.m. in Rome), where he will be welcomed by the prime minister Alexis Tsipras.
At the welcoming ceremony, the pope will also be greeted by His Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His Beatitude Jerome, archbishop of Athens and All Greece, and later by Bishop Fragkiskos Papmanolis, OFM Cap., president of the Holy Synod of Catholic Bishops of Greece.
Following a private meeting with the prime minister, the pope will travel to the Mòria refugee camp, accompanied by the Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Jerome. The camp, located 16 kilometers from the airport, accommodates around 2,500 refugees seeking asylum.
At their arrival, the three religious leaders will be greeted by 150 minors currently residing in Mòria. Pope Francis will greet individually 250 asylum seekers.
“The presence of minors, children, orphans — even some who are on their own — is very typical in these situations,” Fr. Lombardi said. “Therefore, it is right to give them particular attention.”
During their visit, Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Jerome will address all those present in the camp’s courtyard and will sign a joint declaration.
A luncheon with the three religious leaders and a group of refugees will follow in one of the prefabricated structures located behind the courtyard.
After lunch the three leaders will travel to the headquarters of the Hellenic Coast Guard at the port of Mytilene, where they will meet with the local population and the Catholic community. There Pope Francis will deliver an address.
There are about 100 Catholics on Lesbos, and other Catholics in Greece will travel to the island to attend the encounter, Fr. Lombardi explained. “Keep in mind that there is also a presence of the Catholic Church in Greece. Although very small in quantitative terms, it is still present,” he said.
After the pope’s address, the three religious leaders will each recite a short prayer for the victims of migration. Calling for a minute of silence, the three leaders will receive laurel wreaths from children, which will be launched into the sea.
At 2:15 p.m. the pope will travel to the island’s airport, where he will meet privately with Archbishop Jerome, the Patriarch Bartholomew, and the prime minister. After a farewell ceremony he will depart for Rome, where he is due to arrive at 4:30 p.m. local time.