Trip to Greece is humanitarian, not political, Vatican spokesman says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Stoyan Nenov, Reuters

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In a “humanitarian and ecumenical
gesture,” not a political one, Pope Francis was to join Orthodox leaders
in personally meeting with hundreds of refugees and migrants stranded in
Greece, the Vatican spokesman said.

Releasing the detailed schedule for the pope’s trip April 16
to Lesbos, Greece, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the
pope and the Orthodox leaders wanted to draw attention to “a situation in
which many people are suffering” and where a “solution worthy of the
human person” still must be found.

Pope Francis was to make the trip with Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and Orthodox Archbishop Ieronymos II of
Athens and all Greece.

The three were scheduled to visit the Moria refugee camp,
which the European Union has designated as a “hotspot” for
registering those seeking asylum in Europe and from where those whose
applications are denied are sent back to Turkey, which was their last stop
before entering Greece and, therefore, EU territory.

Father Lombardi said the religious leaders would be welcomed
to the camp by 150 children, including orphans and unaccompanied minors. They
also were scheduled to greet personally 250 of the roughly 2,500 asylum-seekers
currently at Moria.

The visit of the three religious leaders was to culminate
with a prayer service on the waterfront in memory of those who have drowned
trying to cross to Europe. According to the International Organization for
Migration, more than 150,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Greece between
Jan. 1 and April 7; more than half of them landed on Lesbos. In the same
period, the IOM said, 366 people died attempting crossing the Aegean Sea to the island.

Here is the complete schedule released by the Vatican April
14. All times are local, with Eastern Daylight Time in parentheses:

— 7 a.m. (1 a.m.) Departure from Rome’s Fiumicino airport.

— 10:20 a.m. (3:20 a.m.) Arrival at the international
airport in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. Welcoming ceremony.

— 10:35 a.m. (3:25 a.m.) Private meeting with the Greek
prime minister in the airport.

— 10:55 a.m. (3:55) Travel by minibus with Patriarch
Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos to the Moria refugee camp.

— 11.15 a.m. (4:15 a.m.) Visit with the refugees.

— 12:25 p.m. (5:25 a.m.) Brief speeches by Archbishop
Ieronymos, Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis.

— 12:40 p.m. (5:40 a.m.) Signing of a joint declaration.

— 12:45 p.m. (5:45 a.m.) The archbishop, patriarch and pope
have lunch with some of the refugees.

— 1: 45 p.m. (6:45 a.m.) Meeting with citizens of Lesbos,
the Catholic community of Greece, followed by a prayer service for migrants who
have died trying to reach Europe. Speech by pope. Prayers by archbishop,
patriarch and pope. Minute of silence.

— 2:30 p.m. (7:30 a.m.) Private meetings at the Mytilene
airport with Archbishop Ieronymos, Patriarch Bartholomew and Prime Minister Alexis

— 3 p.m. (8 a.m.) Farewell ceremony.

— 3:15 p.m. (8:15 a.m.) Departure from Mytilene airport.

— 4:30 p.m. (10:30 a.m.) Arrival at Rome’s Ciampino

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden.

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