AP/AFP – The spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians has told migrants in a detention center on the Greek island of Lesvos that the world will be judged by how it has treated them.
Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios I also condemned the “hard-heartedness” that saw borders closed to the migrants.
Bartholomew, Pope Francis and the head of the Church of Greece are in Lesvos on a historic visit to highlight the plight of refugees. It comes after a controversial European Union-Turkey agreement under which those arriving on Greek islands after March 20 must be detained and returned to Turkey unless they successfully apply for asylum.
“We have traveled here to tell you that we care. We have traveled here because the world has not forgotten you,” Vartholomaios said, adding that “we have wept as we watched the Mediterranean Sea becoming a burial ground for your loved ones.”
He praised the “sympathy and sensitivity” of Greek island residents who welcomed the refugees, but stressed migration isn’t an issue for “the Middle East and Northern Africa, for Europe and Greece. It is an issue for the world.”
“The world will be judged by the way it has treated you. And we will all be accountable for the way we respond to the crisis and conflict in the regions that you come from,” he said.
You are not alone, says the Pope
Pope Francis on Saturday told refugees trapped on the Greek island of Lesvos that they are “not alone” in their plight, and called on the world to respond with “common humanity” to the migrant crisis.
“You are not alone… do not lose hope,” the pope said as he visited Lesvos with Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios and Archbishop Ieronymos, the head of the Church of Greece, calling on the world to respond to the tragedy “in a way worthy of our common humanity.”
The three religious leaders then signed a joint declaration that calls on the international community to “respond with courage in facing this massive humanitarian crisis and its underlying causes through diplomatic, political and charitable initiatives.”
The pope, who is next scheduled to say a prayer at Lesvos harbour for the hundreds of people of all ages who have died in the Aegean trying to reach Europe, has expressed a desire to take to the Vatican some refugees after his five-hour visit, according to an official from Greece’s state refugee coordination agency.
“We are also going to a cemetery, the sea. So many people never arrived,” he said before his arrival on Saturday.
There were emotional scenes as the pope visited the migrant facility of Moria, greeting unaccompanied minors, women and small children who gave him over a dozen drawings.
One man broke into tears as he knelt at the pope’s feet, requesting his blessing. Another woman got around security to approach the pontiff, also breaking down in tears as he paused to listen to her.
Other migrants detained at Moria, unable to reach the pope, shouted and whistled.
Some held handmade signs that read “We want freedom,” “Let my people go” and “Papa cherche a nous sauver” (Pope, try to save us).
The pontiff’s landmark visit comes amid controversy over a deal last month to end Europe’s refugee crisis by sending all irregular migrants who land in Greece back to Turkey.