Pope Francis Welcomes Refugees to a New Life in Italy

Pope Francis welcomes a group of Syrian refugees after they landed at Ciampino airport in Rome, following a visit at the Moria refugee camp in the Greek island of Lesbos, April 16, 2016. (Filippo Monteforte/Pool Photo via AP)

At an event welcoming 33 refugees sponsored by the Vatican, the cardinal in charge of administrating Pope Francis’ charitable work called European bishops to “wake up” and take a stand in welcoming displaced persons fleeing persecution in the world.

“There is great compassion from the Holy Father toward these people, and we are doing everything we can to wake up every bishop in Europe, especially the bishops conferences,” said Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, speaking to a group of reporters on Wednesday (Dec. 4).

“It is a shame for Europe,” he added.

His comments took place during a news conference at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, where the 33 refugees — including 14 minors — arrived from the infamous camps in Lesbos, Greece. The majority of the asylum-seekers were fleeing from war-torn Afghanistan, but one woman was from Togo and another hailed from Cameroon carrying her infant child.

Pope Francis famously visited the island of Lesbos in 2016, where he made a powerful plea for the rights of immigrants and refugees at a time when the flux of foreign nationals into Europe had reached its peak. There, he stunned the world by deciding to bring three refugee families back with him to the Vatican. One of them attended the welcoming ceremony to usher the newcomers into their new life.

Today, those families and several others who have joined since are fully integrated into Italian and European societies. Instrumental to this work has been the Catholic St. Egidio community, usually pegged as Pope Francis’ favorite movement due to its involvement in peacekeeping, immigration and practical works of charity.

Since February 2016, St. Egidio has been able to bring 3,026 refugees into Europe using humanitarian corridors. Italy, thanks to the commitment of its episcopal conference and Protestant community, has welcomed the majority of the refugees brought in by St. Egidio, reaching a total of 2,448, most of them from Lebanon and Ethiopia.

Other European countries that have agreed to accept refugees brought in by the pope and St. Egidio are France, Belgium and the Spanish island of Andorra. But organizers wish more European countries would pick up on this example.

The founder and head of St. Egidio, Andrea Riccardi, told journalists he hopes that humanitarian corridors such as these lead to “a wide and European process” of adopting more and more people fleeing war and persecution.

Riccardi visited Lesbos shortly before Easter this year and said he was “shocked by the extremely difficult situation, by the wounded humanity there.” He later told the pope about the terrible conditions that he witnessed, and Riccardi said Francis encouraged him to get to work to create a solution.

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Source: Religion News Service