'It makes you weep,' pope says of refugees' stories

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

suggested Pope Francis offer to fly some Syrian refugees back to Rome with him,
he said he said yes immediately because it was “an inspiration of the Holy

In the end, he said, 12 Syrians — members of three
families, including six children — had all the necessary papers from the Greek
and Italian governments in time to fly with the pope April 16.

The fact that the 12 are all Muslims did not enter into the equation,
the pope said. “I gave priority to children of God.”

Two Christian families originally had been on the Vatican’s
list, too, he said, but their papers were not ready in time.

Spending about half an hour answering reporters’ questions,
Pope Francis insisted his visit to Greece with Orthodox leaders was not about
criticizing a recent agreement between the European Union and Turkey to return
to Turkey those entering EU territory without legal permission.

“What I saw today and what you saw in that refugee camp
— it makes you weep,” the pope told reporters.

“Look what I brought to show you,” the pope told
them. He held up some of the drawings the children in the camp had given him.
“Look at this,” he said, “this one saw a child drown.”

“Really, today is a day to weep,” he said. Holding
up another picture, he pointed to the top and said, “The sun is crying. If
the sun is able to cry, we should be able to shed at least one tear” for
those children who will carry the memory of suffering with them.

Asked specifically about immigration to the United States,
Pope Francis insisted “it’s a global problem” and that Central
Americans fleeing poverty and violence also deserve the world’s concern and

On other questions during the inflight press conference:

— Pope Francis confirmed he had met U.S. Senator Bernie
Sanders that morning as the pope was leaving his residence. Sanders and other
participants at a Vatican conference were staying in the Domus Sanctae Marthae,
where the pope lives.

“It was polite” for Sanders, who knew when the
pope was leaving, to go downstairs to greet him, the pope said. “If
someone thinks greeting someone is to get involved in politics, I recommend he
see a psychiatrist.”

— The pope was asked to settle debate about his postsynodal
apostolic exhortation on the family and whether the document opened new
possibilities for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to receive Communion
under some circumstances.

“I could say, ‘Yes. Period,’ but that would be too
short a response,” the pope said. “I recommend everyone read the
presentation made by Cardinal (Christoph) Schonborn” at the Vatican news
conference presenting the document. The cardinal, archbishop of Washington, had
said the document represented “true innovations, but no break” with
church tradition.

Still, the pope said, much of the news media focused so much
on the question of Communion for the divorced that they skewed the public’s
perception of the 2014 and 2015 meetings of the Synod of Bishops, the pope

“Since I’m not a saint, this annoyed me and then
saddened me,” the pope said. “Don’t they understand that the family
throughout the world is in crisis?”

“The family is the foundation of society,” Pope
Francis said. The great problems a reluctance by young people to marry,
extremely low birth rates in Europe, unemployment, poverty — “those are
the big problems.”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter @Cindy_Wooden.

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