Pope Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos Saturday to make a statement about welcoming refugees, and to drive the point home, he brought twelve of those refugees back to Rome with him aboard the papal plane, all of them Muslims.
A Vatican statement indicated that the three families returning with the pope, made up of twelve people in total including six children, were already residing in a camp on the Greek island of Lesbos prior to a recent deal between the European Union and Turkey to begin deporting new arrivals.
The Vatican said that two of the families come from Damascus and one from Deir Azzor, in a zone of Syria under ISIS control, and that their homes had been bombed.
According to the statement, an agreement to allow the twelve migrants to depart for Italy was worked out among the Vatican and Greek and Italian officials.
The Vatican has agreed to assume responsibility for the care of the twelve people, the statement said, with the initial care being provided by the Community of Sant’Egidio, one of the “new movements” in the Catholic Church.
The Community of Sant’Egidio was founded in 1968 by an Italian Catholic layman named Andrea Riccardi, and has earned a reputation for its work on conflict resolution, ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, and care for migrants and refugees.
“The pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees,” said Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, in explaining the decision to invite the three families to fly with the pope and relocate to Italy.