Pope Francis Visited Greece And Took 12 Syrian Refugees Back With Him To The Vatican

It was a simple but unmistakable lesson in humanity aimed pointedly at Europe when the Pope took 12 Syrian refugees back to the Vatican following his brief visit to the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday. The last-minute decision to offer refuge to three Syrian Muslim families was meant as a "gesture of welcome," the Vatican said in a statement issued after the Pope's trip.

The trip was designed to draw attention to the treatment of refugees and migrants under the European Union's controversial deal to send many of them back to Turkey. Pope Francis urged a more empathetic, merciful, and humanitarian response. He thanked Greece for the "generosity" it showed the refugees and migrants who sought shelter within the small nation's borders in a speech at the port of Lesbos. "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," The Christian Science Monitor reported that he said.

In a subtle rebuke of the EU's deal with Turkey, the pope urged the rest of Europe to remember "before they are numbers, these people are first and foremost human beings," he said. It was a message he echoed in a tweet posted to his official Twitter account later in the day: "Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such."

Francis toured the infamous Moria refugee camp with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader the world's Orthodox Christians, and offered a message of hope to the thousands of men, women, and children currently stranded in the camp or facing possible deportation to Turkey. "I want to tell you, you are not alone," NBC News reported Pope Francis said in a scripted speech. "As people of faith, we wish to join our voices to speak out on your behalf. Do not lose hope!"

The Pope's decision to invite 12 Syrian refugees to fly with him back to the Vatican for the opportunity to begin new lives came as a surprise to many. "The pope has sent a strong message in relocating 12 people, including women and children, from three Syrian families from the camps on Lesbos," Kathleen Prior, a spokeswoman for the humanitarian organization International Rescue Committee told CNN. "These refugees were randomly selected [in a lottery] and are the very few lucky ones."

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Those three families, which include a couple from the ISIS-controlled city of from Deir ez-Zor and two from Damascus, will be hosted by a Catholic Group known as the Community of Sant'Egidio who, the Vatican said, will help them search for work. The Vatican is currently already hosting two refugee families, according to NBC News.

Although brief — the trip lasted just five hours — Pope Francis sent a powerful message in his visit with refugees on Lesbos that will hopefully have a lasting impact on how the international community responds to the crisis. "We have come to call the attention of the world to this grave humanitarian crisis and to plead for its resolution," the Pope said while touring the Moria refugee camp. "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."