Moria: Pope Francis gave Europe a concrete lesson on Saturday in how to treat refugees by bringing 12 Syrian Muslims to Italy aboard his charter plane after an emotional visit to the hard-hit Greek island of Lesbos.
The Vatican said the three families, including six children, would be supported by the Holy See and cared for by Italy's Catholic Sant'Egidio Community. Sant'Egidio has worked out a program with the Italian government to grant deserving refugees humanitarian visas to live in Italy while their asylum applications are being processed.
The Vatican said Francis wanted to make a "gesture of welcome" at the end of his five-hour visit to Lesbos, where he implored Europe to respond to the migrant crisis on its shores "in a way that is worthy of our common humanity." The Greek island just a few miles from the Turkish coast has seen hundreds of thousands of desperate people land on its shores in the last year, fleeing war and poverty at home.
Francis visited Lesbos alongside the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians and the head of the Church of Greece to thank Greece for its welcome and highlight the plight of refugees as the European Union implements a controversial plan to deport them back to Turkey.
At a ceremony in the port of Lesbos to thank locals, Francis said he understood Europe's concern about the migrant influx. But he said migrants are first of all human beings "who have faces, names and individual stories" and deserve to have their most basic human rights respected.
"God will repay this generosity and that of other surrounding nations, who from the beginning have welcomed with great openness the large number of people forced to migrate," he said.
Many refugees fell to their knees and wept at Francis' feet as he and the two Orthodox leaders approached them at the Moria refugee detention center. Others chanted "Freedom! Freedom!" as they passed by.
Francis bent down as one young girl knelt at his feet sobbing uncontrollably. A woman told the pope that her husband was in Germany but that she was stuck with her two sons in Lesbos.
In his remarks to them, Francis said the refugees should know that they are not alone and shouldn't lose hope. He said he wanted to visit them to hear their stories and to bring the world's attention to their plight.
"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," he said. "May all our brothers and sisters on this continent, like the Good Samaritan, come to your aid in the spirit of fraternity, solidarity and respect for human dignity that has distinguished its long history."