Roman Catholic Pope Francis has requested permission to visit Greece— the island of Lesvos specifically, to meet with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and show solidarity for the plight of the refugees there.
The Church of Greece has approved the plan and media reports in Greece say it could happen as early as April 15th.
According to a statement from the Greek Orthodox Church’s Athens-based synod, or council of bishops, Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and head of the Greek church accepted the Pope’s proposal for a “symbolic and humanitarian” visit to Greece and to “draw the attention of the international community to the need for an immediate ceasefire in the conflicts” in the Middle East.
“The personality and prestige of the ecumenical patriarch”, who is based in Istanbul, “and the weight of the presence of the pope will send a resounding wakeup call to the international community,” the Greek church said in its statement.
Francis has been an outspoken advocate for refugee rights and has criticized the official European Union “rejection” of refugees as they flee war zones. The Pope’s beliefs are at odds with many staunchly Catholic nations like Poland, which have closed borders to refugees and have taken on anti-refugee policies.
The synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, based in Istanbul, Turkey, confirmed the visit in an official release on April 5, 2016.
“In the context of the interest and shared concern of Religious Leaders as well as the urgent need to assume a common initiative and action to sensitize the international public opinion as well as the appropriate bodies and agencies, His Holiness Pope Francis, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and His Beatitude Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece will visit the island of Lesbos in the near future in order to meet with and support the refugees there,” the statement said.
Photo: On March 24, 2016, Francis washed and kissed the feet of refugees, including three Muslim men during the foot-washing ritual at the Castelnuovo di Porto refugees center near Rome, Italy.