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Pope’s ‘sad journey’ to Lesbos challenges EU Immigration Policy

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Pope Francis’ words to journalists on board the charted flight yesterday to the Greek island of Lesbos struck an emotional chord: “It is a sad journey,” he said. “We are going to see the greatest humanitarian  tragedy after World War II.”

As Francis deplaned he was greeted by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. The pope expressed his gratitude for Greece’s generosity to Middle Eastern refugees, many of whom come to Europe fleeing from desperate situations.

Francis spent only 5 hours on the small Greek island near the cost of Turkey, while meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Ieronymos II, the archbishop of Athens and Greece. He took time to speak to refugees from regions of economic depravity, religious persecution and military strife. He then held a service to bless those who have died trying to reach Europe.

According to RomeReports’ coverage of the one-day papal visit, Francis traveled to the Moria refugee camp, “a place where the migrants arrive and can not leave freely.”

The camp is home to some 2,500 people who are waiting for a response from the government in order to be granted refugee asylum.
The Pope listened to their stories and dried their tears, as he listened, for over an hour, to the tragedies that have brought them there.
While there, he first greeted orphans, children between 8 and 16 who have left behind everything…Many said only their country of origin: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and especially Syria. Most were Muslims, but also Christians and Yazidis.

In a controversial move challenging tightening EU immigration and asylum policies, Francis brought back with him on the papal flight to Rome 12 Muslim refugees, who will be taken in by the Sant’Egidio Community in Rome.  We read in The Guardian:

Fuelling belief that the Catholic church is at odds with the EU’s stance on the crisis, Pope Francis took 12 refugees back to the Vatican. An official confirmed all those taken from the camp were Syrian Muslims, six of them minors who arrived Lesbos before the deportation deal came into effect…Two families come from Damascus, and one from Deir Azzor (in the area occupied by Isis). 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.

During the Acton Institute’s April 20th Rome conference “Freedom with Justice: Rerum Novarum and the New Things of Our Time” the urgent subject of global migration — as in the freedom of movement between nations for economic reasons and escaping religious persecution —  will be one the “new things” addressed in light of 125 years of modern Catholic social teaching. Learn more at acton.org/Rome2016 and follow on social media via #125onFreedom.

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Michael Severance

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