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Root causes of people’s flight must be addressed

PORT MYTILENE (SE): Pope Francis fulfilled a long held ambition when he landed on the Greek island of Lesvos on the morning of April 16 to pay a 12-hour visit to the thousands of refugees who have sought shelter in trying conditions that are only lightened by the generosity of those who have welcomed them.

He described the purpose of his visit as being a call to the many international organisations in the world that must work together in order to address the basic causes of the mass migration of desperate people.

“Solutions to the complex issue of refugees, which are worthy of humanity, can and must be sought,” he stressed, adding, “In this regard, the contribution of Churches and religious communities is indispensable. My presence here today, along with that of Patriarch Bartholomew (the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople) and Archbishop Ireonymos (Orthodox archbishop of Athens and All Greece), is a song of our willingness to cooperate, so that the challenges we face today will not lead to conflict, but rather to growth of the civilisation of love.”

He pointed out that Jesus has shown us the way to peace, by placing himself at the service of all humankind. “This is the true power that brings about peace,” Pope Francis said. “Only those who serve with love build peace. Service makes us go beyond ourselves and care for others.”

He then spoke of God, saying that he is not an indifferent father, but one who helps us to work together for good and stands behind us in our struggle to reject evil.

While the nature of his visit was advertised as pastoral, he spoke to the root causes of the mass migration in an address to civil authorities, saying that the thousands landing on their shores are only the symptom of the deeper problem, the ruptured peace of the Middle East.

He praised the generosity of the Greek people, whom he noted have their own suffering to bear, but have still kept their hearts and their doors open, with many ordinary men and women making available the little they have to share with those who have lost everything.

The pope also reminded the migrants themselves that they are standing on European soil, which he termed the home of human rights, calling on them to respect the tradition that has been and continues to be the inspiration of the welcome that they are receiving.

He was full of praise for the people of Lesvos, saying, “You… show that in these lands, the cradle of civilisation, the heart of humanity continues to beat; a humanity that before all else recognises others as brothers and sisters, a humanity that wants to build bridges and recoils from the idea of putting up walls to make us feel safer.”

He referred to barriers and walls as posing a danger to peace, saying that, in fact, all they do is create divisions, and divisions eventually lead to more conflict.

And to those who resist giving solace and support to people running from danger, he said that their worries are both understandable and legitimate.

However, he then stressed, “We must never forget that migrants, rather than simply being a statistic, are first of all persons who have faces, names and individual stories.”

But ultimately, Pope Francis told the people gathered on the shore of the sparkling blue Aegean waters that to be truly united with those who have been forced from their homes, we must eliminate the causes of their flight.

“It is not enough to limit ourselves to responding to emergencies as they arise,” he stated. “Instead, we need to encourage political efforts that are broader in scope and multilateral.”

He pointed out, “It is necessary, above all, to build peace where war has brought destruction and death, and to stop this scourge from spreading.”

He then pointed to the huge arms industry that he said prospers at the expense of those on the receiving end of the bombs and bullets, calling any involvement in promoting these barbaric acts against innocent people an act of hatred.

He said, “Those who carry out acts of hatred and violence must be denied all means of support… Cooperation among nations, international organisations and humanitarian agencies must be tirelessly promoted.”

He pointed out to journalists that he believes that his visit to Lesvos is an extremely important trip, as “we go to meet the greatest humanitarian catastrophe since World War II.”

He added that he is also going to honour and pray for the dead. “And we are going to a graveyard—the sea. So many people there drowned.”

Upon arriving in Port Mytilene, he prayed, “Merciful God, we pray to you for all the men, women and children who have died after leaving their homelands in search of a better life.”

A joint declaration signed by Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ireonymos, issued a challenge to the international community to respond to the grave crisis with courage, through diplomatic, political and charitable initiatives both in Europe and in the Middle East.

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