Lesvos, April 16, 2016/ Independent Balkan News Agency
By Spiros Sideris
Pope Francis arrived on the islzand of Lesvos on Saturday morning aiming to raise awareness of the refugee crisis. The Pope met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Hieronymus and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.
“The Greek people, despite the great difficulties, despite having unjustly suffered harsh austerity measures over the years that others have imposed on them, showed their humaneness and solidarity to refugees” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stressed in his one on one meeting with Pope Francis at the Mytilene Airport.
“And I’m proud of that, especially since some of our partners and even in the name of Christian Europe lifted up walls and fences to prevent defenceless people to pursue a better life,” he added.
Therefore, he said, “I believe that your visit is historic and significant” and thanked the Pope warmly for his initiative.
“The visit is an important initiative at a critical moment. An important initiative at a critical time,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reportedly said of the Pope’s initiative to visit Lesvos, during his meeting with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Hieronymus. As the PM said, it is important “to highlight the humane stature especially Lesvos showed in a difficult situation.”
According to the same sources, Mr. Tsipras stressed that Greeks have highlighted the universal values of solidarity, whereas others in the name of Christianity approached refugees with walls, fences and violence.
In a short dialogue that he had been in front of the television crews, the Prime Minister stressed that the important thing is that with this effort today and his presence, Pope Francis sends out a message that travels beyond Greek and European borders.
“This is very important for Greece and for the refugee crisis,” he said, noting that the refugee crisis remains. After stating that “in Greece we have around 50,000 refugees”, Alexis Tsipras stressed that “despite difficulties, we are trying to offer them proper living conditions.” He said that we must not forget that on the other hand, there are about 2 million refugees in Turkey. “So”, he said, “the important thing is to give and a message of peace, we must stop this war and think about where these people are fleeing from and are put through this ordeal”.
“If the war does not end refugee flows will continue,” the Ecumenical Patriarch said. Mr. Bartholomew referred to the proposal that has been made for residents of Mytilene to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for actively showing their solidarity to the suffering of 500,000 refugees who passed through the island, adding that this was worthy and fair and he wished it happened. The Prime Minister added that this initiative was undertaken by the Minister of Immigration Policy in cooperation with the President of the Hellenic Republic.
The three religious leaders will sign a Joint Declaration during their visit to the Reception and Identification Centre in Moria, where they will talk with refugees and have lunch with them. Thereafter, from the port of Mytilene, each will say a special prayer for the victims of migratory flows and will throw laurel wreaths into the sea.
According to current information available, in Moria the religious leaders will cross the courtyard area through to the are where the registration of refugees takes place and they will go onto a big stage to greet about 250 asylum seekers individually. Then, at 12.25 they will send their own messages in the courtyard of the registration area.
At 12.40, Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Hieronymus II, will sign a Joint Declaration and a the meal with some refugees will follow.
At 13.45 Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Hieronymus II will arrive at the port of Mytilene. There, Pope Francis will deliver a speech, followed by a prayer by the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Hieronymus II, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis in memory of the victims of migratory flows. Wreaths will then be thrown into the sea, from the dock of the Port Mytilene.
Then, together with the Prime Minister, they will all depart for Mytilene airport. There, from 14:30, Pope Francis will hold seperate meeting with the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Hieronymus II, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and the Prime Minister.
The visit will end at 15:00, when the the Pope will be greeted by attendants followed by the President of the Catholic Hierarchy of Greece Francis Papamanolis. A farewell will follow by Archbishop Hieronymus and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, while the Prime Minister will show Pope Francis on to the aircraft.
The Pope returns to the Vatican with 10 refugees
With 10 refugees from vulnerable social groups, members of single-parent families, mothers with children, people with disabilities or health problems, from different nationalities will be on the return trip, at 3.15 pm, following the completion of the Pope Francis’ visit to Lesvos.
According to reliable information, early yesterday afternoon the Pope asked via his officials for there to be a highly symbolic act of returning to the Vatican along with 10 refugees who belong to vulnerable social groups and are trapped in Greece due to the closure of borders in the Balkans and northern European countries. This action by the Pope of Rome is interpreted as an expression of dissatisfaction for policy and practices applied but also as a message to European leaders.
Yesterday afternoon the 10 refugees were selected from those staying in the camp of the municipality of Lesvos, in Kara Tepe Mytilene. In their entirety they have reached Greece and were registered in the hot spots of Moria before March 20th, when the European Union – Turkey agreement was effective.
In Lesvos there are a total of 417 refugees that arrived in Greece before March 20th, stranded on the island and staying in open structures such as the camp of Kara Tepe.
Photo PM (handout/Andrea Bonetti)