MYTILENE, Greece (AP) — For some refugees, when it came time to actually meet Pope Francis, the tears just began to flow.
Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday, whose shores have seen the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people making their way toward Europe.
Francis, along with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and the head of the Church of Greece Archbishop Ieronymos, visited the Moria camp, which has been converted into a detention center.
That shift in function came as part of a controversial European Union-Turkey deal under which new arrivals are slated for deportation back to Turkey.
Several people at the camp cried upon meeting the pope. One man sobbed uncontrollably as he knelt before Francis, his shoulders shaking as he lowered his head and implored the pontiff for his blessing. “Thank you, God. Thank you! Please Father, bless me!” he cried.
A little boy in a stripped T-shirt smiled as he ducked between the bars of a barrier to kiss the pope’s hand while his mother held him.
As the religious leaders left the camp, a woman wearing a crucifix around her neck struggled to break through a security cordon to see the pope.
She managed, kneeling at his feet as she wept uncontrollably. The pontiff laid his hand on her head, and security personnel gently raised her to her feet before she walked away, wiping tears from her cheeks.
Others not among those selected to meet the pope held up banners of cardboard or paper with slogans in marker pen.
One little boy held up a white piece of paper with his appeal in red pen, hearts decorating some of the letters: “Let me go to Dady (daddy) please.”