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Pope Francis Takes 12 Syrian Refugees Back to Rome Aboard Papal Flight

HO / OSSERVATORE ROMANO / AFP
This handout picture released by the Vatican press office shows Pope Francis (R) meeting with migrants and refugees during a visit at Moria refugee camp near the port of Mytilene in the Greek island of Lesbos. Pope Francis on Saturday told despairing migrants trapped on the Greek island of Lesbos they were "not alone" and pleaded for the world to show "common humanity" following a dramatic hardening of the EU's stance on migrants. The pontiff's visit comes amid continuing criticism of a deal reached last month to end Europe's refugee crisis by sending all irregular migrants who land in Greece back to Turkey. AFP PHOTO / OSSERVATORE ROMANO/HO RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / OSSERVATORE ROMANO" - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS / AFP PHOTO / OSSERVATORE ROMANO / HO
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Lots were drawn to determine who would accompany pope on his return

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has taken 12 Syrian refugees from the Greek island of Lesvos back to Rome on the papal flight, the Vatican has confirmed.

According to an official statement issued today in Greece by Vatican spokesman, Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, the 12 refugees accompanying the pope back to Rome include three Syrian families (including six children), all of them Muslim. According to a report out of Reuters, individuals were selected through drawn lots.

Fr. Lombardi told Aleteia that “there were also Christian families considered for this initiative, but it needed to be taken into account which families could be authorized by the authorities to relocate.

“Unfortunately,” the Vatican spokesman said, “the Christians did not have the requirements to be authorized to transfer on this occasion.”

The statement also specifies that the Vatican has assumed responsibility for supporting the families once in Rome. Fr. Lombardi’s full statment reads:

The pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees, accompanying on his plane to Rome three families of refugees from Syria, 12 people in all, including six children. These are all people who were already in camps in Lesvos before the agreement between the European Union and Turkey.

The pope’s initiative was brought to fruition through negotiations carried out by the Secretariat of State with the competent Greek and Italian authorities.

All the members of the three families are Muslims. Two families come from Damascus and one from Deir Azzor (in the area occupied by Daesh). Their homes had been bombed.

The Vatican will take responsibility for bringing in and maintaining the three families. The initial hospitality will be taken care of by the community of Sant’Egidio.

The pope’s gesture comes at the end of a one-day visit to the Greek island of Lesvos, aimed at drawing attention to the plight of refugees and migrants.

During his visit to the island’s Mòria Refugee Camp, the pope, together with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Archbishop Ieronymos of Greece, met individually with some 250 asylum seeks. In his address at the camp, Pope Francis said his visit was intended “to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution,” and he encouraged the refugees not to lose hope.

Here below we publish the official English text of the address Pope Francis delivered at the Mòria Refugee Camp, in Lesvos
.

Dear brothers and sisters,

I have wanted to be with you today. I want to tell you that you are not alone. In these weeks and months, you have endured much suffering in your search for a better life. Many of you felt forced to flee situations of conflict and persecution for the sake, above all, of your children, your little ones. You have made great sacrifices for your families. You know the pain of having left behind everything that is dear to you and — what is perhaps most difficult — not knowing what the future will bring. Many others like you are also in camps or towns, waiting, hoping to build a new life on this continent.

I have come here with my brothers, Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos, simply to be with you and to hear your stories. We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution. As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf. 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.

God created mankind to be one family; when any of our brothers and sisters suffer, we are all affected. We all know from experience how easy it is for some to ignore other people’s suffering and even to exploit their vulnerability. But we also know that these crises can bring out the very best in us. You have seen this among yourselves and among the Greek people, who have generously responded to your needs amid their own difficulties. You have also seen it in the many people, especially the young from throughout Europe and the world, who have come to help you. Yes, so much more needs to be done! But let us thank God that in our suffering, he never leaves us alone. There is always someone who can reach out and help us.

This is the message I want to leave with you today: do not lose hope! The greatest gift we can offer one another is love: a merciful look, a readiness to listen and understand, a word of encouragement, a prayer. May you share this gift with one another. We Christians love to tell the story of the Good Samaritan, a foreigner who saw a man in need and immediately stopped to help. For us, it is a story about God’s mercy which is meant for everyone, for God is the All-Merciful. It is also a summons to show that same mercy to those in need. May all our brothers and sisters on this continent, like the Good Samaritan, come to your aid in the spirit of fraternity, solidarity and respect for human dignity that has distinguished its long history.

Dear brothers and sisters, may God bless all of you and, in a special way, your children, the elderly and all those who suffer in body and spirit! I embrace all of you with affection. Upon you, and those who accompany you, I invoke his gifts of strength and peace.

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