In a clear signal to Europe, Pope Francis has allowed three refugee families to accompany him on his charter plane back to the Vatican. Francis was on the Greek island of Lesbos to shed light on the refugees' plight.
The Vatican said on Saturday that Francis' decision was a "gesture of welcome" for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos as they flee war and poverty in the Middle East, Central Asia and Afghanistan.
Three families - two from Damascus and one from the "Islamic State"-held Deir el-Zour - accompanied the pope on his charter plane to Italy. The group of refugees totaled 12 people, including six children.
"Today I renew my heartfelt plea for responsibility and solidarity in the face of this tragic situation," Francis said.
Lots were drawn to decide which individuals would be allowed to go with the pope, reported DW correspondent Bernd Riegert, who was on the scene as the plane departed.
As his visit to Lesbos drew to a close, Francis implored Europe to act "in a way that is worthy of our common humanity." Nonetheless, he later emphasized that his act was "purely humanitarian" and meant as a political statement, according to The Associated Press. The pope's visit was also a show of solidarity with the around 250 people still stranded there.
The refugee families will be taken in by the Vatican and will be initially cared for by the Rome-based Catholic community of Sant'Egidio.
An emotional meeting
Overwhelmed by the pope's visit, refugees reportedly sobbed and fell to their knees in his presence. Some even reportedly asked to be blessed by him.
After the visit, Francis had lunch with some of the refugees and then, along with the head of the Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, Athens Archbishop Ieronymos II, signed a declaration calling for their protection.
Refugees were also seen holding signs emblazoned with slogans such as "Pope you are our hope," "Please save Yazidi people," "We are also human" and "Welcome Pope Francis."
blc/rc (AP, Reuters, AFP)