Pope Francis returning to Rome with 12 refugees after trip to Lesbos

Pope Francis left the Greek island of Lesbos with three families of Syrian refugees as he finished his trip in the hope of bringing further awareness to their plight.

The three families — made up of 12 people, including six children — accompanied the pontiff on his flight back to Rome on Saturday, said the director of the Press Office of the Holy See. The families were already in camps in Lesbos before the European Union and Turkey agreed to detain any migrants arriving on Greek islands and return them to Turkey unless they successfully applied for asylum in Greece.

Before leaving, Francis visited the Moria detention camp, where he told refugees they weren’t alone.

“In these weeks and months, you have endured much suffering in your search for a better life,” Francis told the refugees. “God created mankind to be one family; when any of our brothers and sisters suffer, we are all affected.”

Francis ate lunch with the refugees and listened to their stories of hardship, as well as prayed with them. At least one sobbing man collapsed at his feet, asking Francis to bless him.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras greeted Francis as he descended the stairs from a chartered Alitalia jet Saturday morning. He was followed by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I and the Archbishop of Athens and all Greece Ieronymos, who both greeted the pope with a kiss on each cheek before the Greek and Italian national anthems were played.

The head of Lesbos’ Catholic community also greeted Francis.

Tsipras said Francis’ visit to Lesbos was a historic event and an important opportunity to highlight the need to find a legal route into Europe for refugees. He also praised Greeks for welcoming refugees and other migrants at a time when other countries are not.

“I am proud of this, particularly at a time when some of our partners — even in the name of Christian Europe — were erecting walls and fences to prevent defenseless people from seeking a better life,” he told Francis. “That is why I consider that your visit is historic and important.

He said the pope’s visit “is a very important opportunity to show the need to stop the war, the taking advantage of people and to give the possibility of a legal route for these people who leave their homes and search for a better future in Europe.”

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