Pope Francis, who is recovering from intestinal surgery which he underwent earlier this month, has accepted the invitation of President Katerina Sakellaropoulou to visit Greece in November.
Sakellaropoulou issued the invitation in a telephone conversation with the Pope about a year ago.
She had called Francis to discuss Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s move to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque, inviting him to visit Greece in 2021 in order to honor the bicentennial of the start of the Greek Revolution.
Pope Francis expressed his desire to visit Greece and the hope that the pandemic would not interfere in the planning of the trip.
Francis is expected to return to the Vatican “as soon as possible” following his surgery, the Vatican said on Tuesday. He will resume all his normal activities after July, a Vatican spokesperson said.
He added that, starting in September, Francis is planning on traveling to Hungary and Slovakia. In November, he has plans to visit Greece and Cyprus and may also attend an international meeting on climate change in Scotland later that month.
Pope Francis’ last visit to Greece in 2016
Francis last visited Greece in April 2016, when he made a day trip to Lesbos, at the epicenter of the refugee crisis, a trip that ended with the pontiff bringing 12 Syrian refugees back with him to Rome aboard the papal plane.
Francis’ 2016 visit to Moria refugee camp, although brief, was one of the most memorable foreign trips so far of his seven-year papacy.
He toured the camp with the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, and the head of the Church of Greece. He met with would-be asylum-seekers who wept at his feet.
The Pope said that he, Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos were able to meet individually with more than 300 refugees from Afghanistan, Syria, North Africa and other parts of the world during that trip.
“So many of them were children!” the Pope remarked at the time, noting how some of the children had witnessed the deaths of parents or companions.
“I saw so much sorrow!” he continued, and recounted the case of a young Muslim man with two young children, whose Christian fiancée had been killed by terrorists who cut her throat because she would not deny Christ and renounce her faith.
“She is a martyr!” the Pope declared, noting that the young widower had sobbed profusely.
The church leaders issued a joint statement urging the world to respond to the migration crisis with urgent, practical resources. Francis recalled in 2020 that the memories of that visit were still alive, as well as the appeal “for a human and dignified welcome to men and women migrants, to refugees and those who seek asylum in Europe.
“The tragedy of forced migration and displacement affects millions, and is fundamentally a crisis of humanity, calling for a response of solidarity, compassion, generosity and an immediate practical commitment of resources,” the trio’s appeal said.
In 2017, Francis donated 50,000 euros to address the needs of the earthquake victims of the Greek island of Lesvos.
“The Holy Father, because he feels very close to the earthquake victims on the island of Lesvos, has donated 50,000 euros to be used as relief for the victims, according to the judgment of Archbishop Nikolaos,” the Holy See’s representation said at that time.