Pope, Ecumenical Patriarch and Greek Church head to visit refugees on Lesbos
Plans are for Roman Catholic church head Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartolomeos and the head of the Greek Church, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Hieronymus, together to visit refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos.
This emerged after a meeting on April 5 of the Holy Synod, the governing body of the Church of Greece, over which Hieronymus presided.
Hieronymus told the Synod that Pope Francis had expressed a desire to visit Greece, to build awareness among the international community of the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities in the wider Mediterranean area and in the Middle East that were strongly affecting Christian communities, but also had led to a major humanitarian crisis for desperate refugees seeking a better future in Europe.
A Greek Church statement said that the Holy Synod had accepted the proposal for the Pope to visit an Aegean island because it would be a one-day, non-protocol and “clear humanitarian and symbolic visit”.
The Holy Synod decided to propose a visit to Lesbos, which it described as one of the many islands that had deeply experienced and still experienced the tragedy of the refugee problem.
It noted that this was at a time that Greece, in spite of major problems, was bearing on its shoulders the brunt of refugee flows.
“A Greece called upon to prove, even alone, that Europe principles and values still exist,” the Holy Synod said.
The Synod said that it further decided, especially given that the unity of the Orthodox Christian churches was being tested, to invite Ecumenical Patriarch Bartolomeos. In the world Orthodox Christian community, among the leaders of the church, the Ecumenical Patriarch is officially regarded as “first among equals”.
The personality and authority of the Ecumenical Patriarch, together with the gravity of the presence of Pope Francis, would send the world a very strong signal about alleviating the problems of refugees and simultaneously, a call for appropriate action to protect Christians suffering cruelly in the wider region of the Middle East, the Greek Church said.
No date for the visit has been announced but Greek media reports said that April 14 and 15 were possible dates.
(Archive photo, of the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch in 2014: Nir Hason)