Pope Francis came to the heart of Europe’s refugee crisis on Saturday, as he pleaded for political leaders to end the Middle East conflicts that are fueling the chaotic exodus of migrants and asked for deeper sympathy toward refugees at a moment when European attitudes are hardening against them.
“We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution,” Francis said during a lunchtime visit to the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, where he was joined by leaders of Eastern Orthodox Christian churches.
“As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf,” Francis continued. “We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.”
In coming to Greece, Francis was again placing the plight of migrants at the center of his papacy. His first papal trip in 2013 was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, to call attention to the refugees who were arriving there from Libya — or drowning before they reached shore. During his February visit to Mexico, Francis prayed beneath a large cross erected in Ciudad Juárez, just footsteps from the Mexican border with the United States, and then celebrated Mass nearby where he spoke about immigrants.
Upon landing in Lesbos on Saturday, Francis held a brief private meeting with Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, before traveling across the island to the detention center in Moria, where refugees are held as they await rulings on their asylum applications — or as they wait to be deported under a recent agreement struck between the European Union and Turkeyto curb migration.