Pope Francis transformed the lives of a dozen Syrian refugees on Saturday when he plucked three families from a crowded camp on the Greek island of Lesbos and took them back to Rome.
Six adults and six children passed in hours from being inmates of a “closed” facility in Greece to new arrivals in continental Europe, where they will receive all the help they can be given.
Pope Francis said: “Today I renew my heartfelt plea for responsibility and solidarity in the face of this tragic situation.”
The Vatican will take responsibility for supporting the families. But the Catholic Sant’Egidio community will take care of getting them settled initially.
The move came during the Pope’s emotional visit to Lesbos where he implored Europe to respond to the migrant crisis on its shores “in a way that is worthy of our common humanity”.
The Greek island just a few miles from the Turkish coast has seen hundreds of thousands of desperate people land on its shores in the last year, fleeing war and poverty at home.
When he arrived in Lesbos, Pope Francis was driven to Moria camp where he was greeted at the camp by a large group of children, some of whom arrived in Greece without their parents.
Addressing the refugees, he said: “You are not alone. Do not lose hope.”
Many refugees fell to their knees and wept as Francis approached them. Others chanted ‘Freedom! Freedom!’ as he passed by.
“Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names stories and need to be treated as such,” Francis tweeted.
He urged the European Union to change its policy towards the migrants. He said: “We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity.”