'There was such suffering': Pope Francis on meeting with migrants

AFP , Sunday 17 Apr 2016

Pope Francis
Pope Francis greets migrants and refugees at the Moria refugee camp on April 16, 2016 near the port of Mytilene, on the Greek island of Lesbos. Pope Francis received an emotional welcome today on the Greek island of Lesbos during a visit aimed at showing solidarity with migrants fleeing war and poverty. (Photo: AFP)

Pope Francis spoke emotionally Sunday of his meeting a day earlier with migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos, which culminated with him taking three Syrian families back to the Vatican.

Addressing worshippers at his weekly Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square, the 79-year-old pontiff, who is himself the son of Italian immigrants in Argentina, related his visit to a migrant processing centre, where around 3,000 people are being held.

"We greeted around 300 of them, one by one," said Francis, who was accompanied on his visit by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens.

"There were so many children. Some of these children witnessed their parents and friends dying, drowned at sea.

"I saw such suffering," he said, visibly moved.

The Roman Catholic leader then went on to tell of one particular case, "that of a young man, who was not even 40."

"I met him yesterday with his two sons. He was Muslim and told me he had married a Christian, (and that) they loved and respected each other."

But the woman fell victim to Islamist radicals, he said.

"She had her throat slit by terrorists because she would not renounce Christ and abandon her faith," said Francis, calling her a "martyr".

As for her grieving spouse, he said sorrowfully, "this man was crying so much".

The pope's visit to Lesbos, one of the main ports of arrival for people fleeing war, poverty and persecution in the Middle East and Asia, was seen as a lesson in solidarity for Europe, where the doors to migrants are progressively being slammed shut.

Declaring "we are all migrants", Francis used his trip to emphasise that the arrivals were not mere numbers, but people with "faces, names and individual stories."

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