Pope Francis has arrived on Lesbos, the island in Greece that has received hundreds of thousands of refugees the past two years.
The Pope was welcomed by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The Chief of the Roman Catholic Church landed at the Mytilene airport at 10.28 am.
Pope Francis will visit the Moria refugee reception center located on the Greek island. The three church leaders and PM Tsipras are scheduled to have lunch along with the refugees at the reception center.
Afterwards, Pope Francis will give a speech on the refugee crisis and the three church leaders will honor the refugees who drowned in the Aegean during the perilous journey from the Turkish coast. The pontiff is scheduled to fly back to Rome at 3 pm.
Sources close to the Greek government revealed that Pope Francis has invited ten refugees (eight Syrians and two Afghans) to return with him to the Vatican.
In a press release issued by Vatican, the Holy See said the aim of the pontiff’s visit to Lesbos is to support the refugees and to draw the world’s attention to the European migration crisis.
The religious leaders’ visit to the island, which has seen the majority of the arrivals of migrants heading into Europe, is a highly symbolic one. It comes shortly after the European Union began deporting new arrivals back to Turkey under a controversial deal meant to stem the refugee flow.
The last Papal visit to Greece was conducted 15 years ago.
Hours before Francis arrived, the European border patrol agency Frontex intercepted a dinghy carrying 41 Syrians and Iraqis off the coast of Lesbos. The refugees were detained and brought to shore in the main port of Mytilene.