The Pope may be visiting Greece next week to support deportees during the refugee crisis.
UPDATE: The Vatican has confirmed Pope Francis will go to Lesbos on Saturday, April 16.
There have been recent reports that Pope Francis intends to visit the Greek island of Lesbos amidst the ongoing refugee crisis. Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, in a recent e-mail sent to the Associated Press, would not confirm any dates, but said, “I can confirm that there have been contacts in that regard with civil and religious authorities.” There is speculation suggesting the visit will come on April 15. He is expected to be accompanied by the Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos among other world religious heads.
There has also been further confirmation from The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, which is the decision-making body of the Greek Church, saying that Pope Francis’ request for a visit has been accepted.
This visit is fueled by the deportation of migrants under the controversial deal between the European Union and Turkey targeted at easing Europe’s migrant problem. This comes after over 200 migrants were deported back to Turkey on boats from Lesbos and the Greek island of Chios.
European officials strongly believe that the EU-Turkey agreement is the only solution for preventing people from getting into Greece from the neighboring Turkish coast.
The deal states that migrants who arrived in the period starting March 20 will be deported back to Turkey apart from those who qualify for asylum. In addition, it also states that Europe will take in Syrians to be resettled in an EU country for every Syrian deported.
The Pope’s visit is intended to act as a show of support and solidarity to the refugees currently being deported back to Turkey and in addition raise awareness on their plight. As a son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, Francis has been an activist for the rights of refugees, speaking out against the deportations by the EU together with the various human rights activist groups.
In his three years as pope, he has made the plight of migrants a major priority especially insisting that Europe and other first world countries such as the U.S. should be more welcoming to people fleeing torture and poverty in war torn areas. In a recent address to the Vatican’s diplomatic corps he said that he was certain that Europe had the ability to take in refugees as it was their moral responsibility and it was possible to do this without having their security or culture affected whatsoever.
— Francis X. Rocca (@FrancisXRocca) April 5, 2016
To add onto the Pope’s expected visit, a recent statement from the Ecumenical Patriarchate based in Istanbul confirmed that the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Bartholomew, also intends to visit Lesbos to draw attention to the plight of the refugees.
According to the Church of Greece, these visits will serve to relay a very strong message on the need to aid refugees and other Middle Eastern Christians facing persecution.