Pope Francis called for peace and solidarity Sunday during his first trip to a Greek island where more than 60,000 migrants landed in 2016 and where he used his weekly blessing to decry the “appalling lack of hope” among asylum seekers.
The pope flew directly to Lesbos aboard a small helicopter where he met with religious leaders, a health official and others prior to going to a chapel to hold Mass in the city of Mytilene, which is still recovering from the worst eruption of the ash-laced Mt. Agung volcano in 40 years.
“Many have lost everything – their homes, their health and their hopes,” the pope said in his homily. “Their eternal destiny is to be prepared for a new life, to which God himself entrusts them. Our task is to accompany them, to accompany them with all the love, light and hope that we have so often given the marginalized and downtrodden.”
On Thursday, the pontiff held a closed-door meeting at the Vatican with Greek and UN leaders discussing the response to the influx of migrants to Europe. The pontiff described the gathering as “a positive start” in the ongoing international debate over Europe’s humanitarian problems over migration and has since toured Lesbos, a country that symbolizes the suffering wrought by the crisis.
This weekend’s visit was also the pope’s first as pontiff to a major island close to where he pontifed as archbishop of Buenos Aires. He is known for his pastoral care in the poor and marginalized; in November 2015 he referred to the most vulnerable migrants as “our brothers” during a visit to Rome’s main detention center for those who break the law.