Pope Francis is bringing 12 Syrian refugees back to Rome after a quick visit to the Greek island of Lesbos.
The Holy See confirmed Saturday that the three Muslim families, including six children, will be housed in the Vatican. Francis wanted to “make a gesture of welcome” to refugees, the statement said.
Before departing from Lesbos Francis was joined by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos II in signing a declaration urging the international community to make the protection of migrant lives a priority and to extend temporary asylum to those in need.
The three clerics led a minute of silence in front of hundreds of people at the Lesbos port of Mytilene, before tossing floral wreaths into the sea in memory of those who perished while trying to reach to Europe.
Moria detention camp
Earlier, Pope Francis visited the Moria detention camp in Lesbos.
Adults and children broke down in tears at the sprawling fenced complex on the Aegean island, pleading for help after their journey to Europe was cut short by an EU decision to seal off a route used by a million people fleeing conflict since early 2015.
Francis also accepted drawings and paintings from children. As he handed one art project to his staff, he said, “Don’t fold it. I want it on my desk.”
The European Union and Turkey have entered into a controversial deportation deal to end Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War II.
Human rights groups say the scheme for dealing with the crisis does not recognize the inherent dignity of the migrants as human beings, but instead treats them as merchandise that can be traded back and forth.
The Vatican said the pope’s trip is not a “direct” criticism of the scheme, but is a purely humanitarian visit.