ROME—Pope Francis is considering a trip to the Greek island of Lesbos on April 15, Vatican officials confirmed in indirect fashion on Tuesday. The pontiff’s aim would be to strengthen his appeals on behalf of migrants arriving in Europe from Africa and the Middle East fleeing war, hunger, and religious-based persecution.
Rumors over the possible visit first arose as Greece began deporting migrants to Turkey, with the first boats crossing the Mediterranean Sea departing from Lesbos.
A Vatican spokesman said on Tuesday, “I have nothing to declare regarding a possible trip from the pope to Greece. The decision hasn’t been made yet.”
Father Federico Lombardi then told reporters in an email, however, that “I right now don’t deny that contacts are being made regarding a possible trip.”
The information was first reported by the Greek site Dogma.gr, which claims the pope will be in Lesbos on April 15, accepting an invitation from His Beatitude Ieronymos, the Orthodox Archbishop of Athens and all Greece.
According to the site, Francis would be going to Greece along with Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, considered the first among equals in the Orthodox churches.
The ecclesiastical website said on Tuesday that Francis had suggested the visit last month to try to raise awareness about the situation of refugees travelling to Europe who are “searching for a better future in the European continent.”
Ieronymos then reportedly extended the invitation with the support of the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece, the decision-making body of the Greek church.
If it does happen, it will likely be billed as a humanitarian visit, expected to last only a few hours.
Francis has made the plight of migrants a social priority during 2016, making several appeals to have both the local churches opening their doors to support refugees, and for the European governments to “open their hearts and doors” in the face of the crisis.
A son of immigrants himself, Francis made a similar trip early in his pontificate back in 2013, when he went to the island of Lampedusa, the Italian island that hosts thousands of victims of what he’s described as “forced migration.”
It was in Lampedusa that he first spoke of the “globalization of indifference.”
Insisting that actions speak louder than words, on Holy Thursday Francis celebrated Mass at a refugee center in the outskirts of Rome, where he washed the foot of migrants from several countries.
“Today as well, there are two gestures. All of us here, (coming) together — Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Copts, Evangelicals — but (being) brothers, sons of the same God who want to live in peace,” he said.
On Monday, the European Union began to deport refugees from Lesbos back to Turkey, a move that was denounced by human rights organizations under claims that it violates the continent’s obligations to protect refugees.
In return, the European Union will take in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and compensate Ankara with money, as well as visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.