Greek church has accepted proposal for an informal symbolic meeting.
Pope Francis has asked to visit Greece to show support for refugees there, and Greek church authorities have approved plans for a papal trip to Lesbos, officials said on Tuesday.
The Greek Orthodox church added that it had invited Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church, “so that he can honour Lesbos with his presence the day of Pope Francis’s visit”.
The Vatican did not confirm that the pope would be visiting the Greek island but spokesman Federico Lombardi did not deny that contact had been made on the possibility.
A Greek church statement, published on the specialist website Dogma.gr, gave no dates for the visits, but the site itself gave it as April 15.
Head of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Ieronymos II, has been informed “of the wish of Pope Francis to visit Greece,” to “draw the attention of the international community to the need for an immediate ceasefire in the conflicts” in the Middle East and to “shed light on the major humanitarian problem” of the influx of migrants to Lesbos and other Greek islands, the statement said.
The Greek church has accepted the Pope’s proposal for an informal “symbolic and humanitarian” visit to an Aegean Sea island for a few hours, it added.
The Greek Orthodox Church chose to invite the pontiff to Lesbos which, since 2015, has been the main port of arrival into Europe, from Turkey, for those fleeing war or poverty in their own countries many of whom are Syrian.
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“The personality and prestige of the ecumenical patriarch (Bartholomew)” who is based in Istanbul “and the weight of the presence of the Pope will send a resounding wake-up call to the international community,” the Greek church said in its statement.
The news of the Pope’s interest came the day after Greece began expelling migrants back to Turkey under a deal agreed between the EU and Ankara aimed at quelling the bloc’s worst migration crisis since World War II. Pope Francis has on several occasions spoken up for the migrants flooding into Europe.
On March 27 he spoke out against the “rejection” of refugees as Europe struggles to cope with the influx which brought over a million migrants to its shore last year.
Countries along Europe’s “Balkan route” have toughened their stance on migrants in recent weeks, closing their borders to those seeking to transit in search of a better life in the continent’s wealthier northern states.
“The Easter message of the risen Christ... invites us not to forget those men and women seeking a better future, an ever more numerous throng of migrants and refugees... fleeing from war, hunger, poverty and social injustice,” the pope said then.
Pope Francis in 2013 visited the Italian island of Lampedusa, where large numbers of migrants fleeing fighting in Libya were arriving.
After the EU beefed up controls along this sea route, the Aegean islands became the favoured destinations for people smugglers.