April 16, 2016, Saturday — Pope Returns to Rome from the Island of Lesbos, Greece, Gives Airplane Press Conference, and…

…Twelve Refugees Return with Pope Francis to the Vatican


Twelve Syrian refugees in three families board a plane with Pope Francis at the airport of Mytilene, Lesbos, Greece, on April 16, Reuters photo

Pope Francis has gone to Lesbos, Greece, and returned to Rome.

The 12 Syrian refugees in three families before they boarded a plane with Pope Francis at the airport of Mytilene, Lesbos, Greece, on April 16, Reuters photo

The 12 Syrian refugees in three families before they boarded a plane with Pope Francis at the airport of Mytilene, Lesbos, Greece, on April 16, Reuters photo


Here, the Pope greets the refugees as they land in Rome

And he has brought back with him 12 refugees, all Syrians, all Muslims.

All had their immigration papers in order, the Pope said, and all would be given lodging and help in Rome by the Sant’Egidio Community, including help in finding jobs.

In making this gesture, Francis has thrown the entire weight of his moral authority behind the continued opening of Europe’s borders to the many thousands and tens of thousands, the vast majority of them of the Muslim faith, who are fleeing violence and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa.

But, in doing so, Francis is risking growing opposition from many in Europe who believe that integrating large numbers of Muslims refugees into both Western and Eastern Europe will be very difficult — perhaps impossible, barring a miracle of cultural and religious conversion.

These critics of the Pope’s position warn that, if the immigration continues at present levels, Europe — where attachment to the traditional Christian faith is increasingly weak, and where birthrates are very low — may become Muslim, including adherence to Sharia law, within the next quarter century.

One of the most prominent voices in this regard is the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orbán (photo).

jpeg-4He has argued that the flood of immigrants will, over time, overwhelm the capacity of the smaller European nations to integrate them (Hungary has about 9.8 million people), and that this will lead to the slow destruction of those nations.

“This is betrayal, ladies and gentlemen!” Orbán said in November, condemning European leaders who have opened up the continent to waves of mostly Muslim Middle Eastern migrants. “Europe has been betrayed! And if we do not stand up for it, this Europe will be taken away from us.” (link)

Orbán has ordered fences to be build along Hungary’s southern border to block unlimited immigration.

Speaking to his countrymen, Orbán warned, “What we face is nothing less than the challenge of finding ourselves at the gateway to the implementation of a deliberate conceptual project, which could be described as left-wing and which seeks to marginalize the nation states of Europe. Where this project has failed to overcome Christianity and the identity of the nation state — and the values and responsibility springing from it — in conventional political struggle, it will strive to eliminate it on ethnic grounds.”

So there is a chasm between Orbán’s position and what seems to be the position of Francis.

And it isn’t just Orbán.

Pope Francis has been criticized by “the top Catholic leader in southern Hungary, Bishop Laszlo Kiss-Rigo, who said the pontiff was wrong in saying that Catholics had a moral duty to help the hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern refugees streaming into Europe,” Christianity Today wrote last autumn (link).

“They’re not refugees. This is an invasion,” said Kiss-Rigo. “They come here with cries of ‘Allahu Akbar.’ They want to take over.”

Europe is being overwhelmed by non-believers posing as refugees who pose a serious threat to the continent’s “Christian, universal values,” the bishop said.

Poland too has recently elected an anti-immigration government.

So there seems to be a growing opposition, especially in eastern Europe, to massive numbers of immigrants, even as massive numbers continue to flee from the Middle East and northern Africa, ending up in places like the island of Lesbos which Pope Francis just visited, after risky sea journeys on inflatable rafts which have led to the deaths of hundreds by drowning.

Francis remains adamant. He says he believes that Europe must extend a welcome to all who come to the doors of the continent, whether in Greece, or in Italy, or in Spain.

Francis is clearly moved by compassion, a feeling that families and children should not live in camps for weeks and months on end.

But perhaps he also believes that this is the wisest course for Europe, given all of the factors presently at play on the geo-political chessboard.

Perhaps he feels the generosity he is urging is the only practical way forward to prevent an increasingly tense and ultimately terribly costly “clash of civilizations” — the so-called “inevitable” clash between the Western (now increasingly post-Christian) and the Muslim world that was predicted by American scholar Samuel Huntington in his 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. (For more on this book and this theory, see link.)

Francis may have concluded that the only possible way to head off such a “clash” between c. 2 billion Christians and more than 1 billion Muslims is for both sides — and in this case, the Christians, the Europeans, in the first place — to show such compassion and welcome for the others that the clash is never fully ignited into a raging, lengthy, tragic war.

This entire, controversial question will have to be considered at greater length in future letters.

For the moment, here is a summary report on what happened today.

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, April 16, 2016. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-LESBOS-ORTHODOX-CAMP April 16, 2016. CNS/Paul Haring Photo

Pope Francis meets refugees at the Moria refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, April 16, 2016. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-LESBOS-ORTHODOX-CAMP April 16, 2016. CNS/Paul Haring Photo

Francis: “I give priority to the children of God”

(Note: I was not on the papal plane. An excellent report by the always professional and reliable Cindy Wooden of the Catholic News Service is a good place to begin.)

By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service, April 16, 2016

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT FROM GREECE (CNS) — When an aide suggested Pope Francis offer to fly some Syrian refugees back to Rome with him, he said yes immediately because it was “an inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”

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.”


Pope Francis shows drawings made by children on his flight back to Rome following his visit to Lesbos, Reuters photo

“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 and how it relates to what he had called a “catastrophe,” Pope Francis insisted “it’s a global problem” and that Central Americans fleeing poverty and violence also deserve the world’s concern and assistance.

On other questions during the inflight news 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) Schoenborn” at the Vatican news conference presenting the document. The cardinal, archbishop of Vienna, 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.

“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 include a reluctance by young people to marry, extremely low birth rates in Europe, unemployment, poverty — “those are the big problems.”

(end Cindy Wooden story)

Here are more photos from the Pope’s trip today.


The Pope is greeted by the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, as he arrives at Mytilene airport on the Greek island of Lesbos, where there are thousands of immigrants who have reached the island by boat from nearby Turkey. Photograph: Andrea Bonetti/Reuters


A woman awaits the arrival of Pope Francis. Photograph: Filippo Monteforte/EPA

Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew adjusts Francis’s collar, while Greek President Tsipras speaks to the Pope on the other side. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew adjusts Francis’s collar, while Greek President Tsipras speaks to the Pope on the other side. Photograph: Louisa Gouliamaki/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis throws wreaths with Patriarch Bartholomew I and Archbishop Jerome in the port of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece, in memory of migrants who died at sea trying to reach Europe. Photograph: Osservatore Romano/Reuters

Pope Francis throws wreaths with Patriarch Bartholomew I and Archbishop Jerome in the port of Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece, in memory of migrants who died at sea trying to reach Europe. Photograph: Osservatore Romano/Reuters



A boy shakes the Pope’s hand as he greets people at the Moria refugee camp near the port of Mytilene, Lesbos. Photograph: Reuters


Syrian refugees are welcomed as they arrive at the St. Egidio Community in Rome after flying back with the Pope. The Roman Catholic charity Sant’Egidio, which is providing the refugees with preliminary assistance, welcomed them at their headquarters in Rome’s Trastevere neighbourhood. In the background you can see the facade, mosaics and belltower of the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere, considered the oldest church in the world dedicated to the Virgin Mary. it is also believed that the first Christians in Rome in the time of St. Peter lived in this part of Rome. Photograph: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

Pope’s In-Flight Press Conference Today

Here is a Vatican Radio report which contains most of the text of what Pope Francis said today during his 30-minute press conference on the flight back from Lesbos to Rome. (link)

Among the topics touched upon: this morning’s brief meeting with Bernie Sanders — which the Pope says was a courtesy meeting, a “polite” meeting, not an endorsement of the Democratic presidential candidate — and some remarks on his recent apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

By Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis gave a 30-minute press conference on the flight back from Lesbos to Rome on Saturday, sharing thoughts on a wide range of subjects including his opinion regarding the deal between the EU and Turkey, his meeting with Bernie Sanders, the closure of European borders and his recent apostolic exhortation.

The Pope began his traditional ‘conversation’ with journalists aboard the papal plane reflecting on the fact that the visit to Lesbos had had a very strong emotional impact on him.

Asked what he thinks about the recent deal between Brussels and Ankara, the Pope highlighted the fact that his visit to Lesbos was undertaken in a purely humanitarian spirit.

Regarding the fact that he has brought three refugee families back to Rome with him, he said the decision was the fruit of a ‘last-minute’ inspiration one of his collaborators had a week ago.

“Everything was arranged according to the rules. They have their documents. The Holy See, the Greek government and the Italian government have checked everything. They have been welcomed by the Vatican and with the collaboration of the Saint Egidio community they will be searching for work” he said.

Asked about a reported meeting on Saturday morning in the Vatican with the American presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Pope Francis acknowledged it had taken place but specified that it had been a purely ‘polite’ encounter.

“This morning when I was leaving Senator Sanders was there. He had come to participate in the ‘Centesimus Annus’ Conference and greeted me politely together with his wife (…) It is called ‘manners’ and has nothing to do with politics,” he said.

Another journalist asked why the three families of refugees chosen to be brought back to the Vatican are all Muslim. The Pope said the choice was not between Christians and Muslims and that those who were selected all had their papers in order.

One journalist asked the Pope whether he thinks that the closing of European borders marks the end of a European dream. Francis said that whilst he understands there are some governments and peoples who are afraid, he said he believes we have the responsibility of welcome.

“I have always said that building walls is not a solution. We saw walls during the last century and they did not resolve anything. We must build bridges. Bridges are built with intelligence, with dialogue, with integration” he said.
The Pope expressed his belief that Europe must urgently implement policies that welcome people, integrate them with work, create policies that foresee growth and a push forward a reform of the economy.

“All these things – he said – are bridges”, and he highlighted the suffering and pain witnessed during his visit to the camp in Lesbos.

The children there, he said, had given him drawings (which he showed those present) in which they asked for peace and expressed their pain and fear after having seen terrible things like other children drowning.

Asked whether Europe can open its arms to all the misery in the world the Pope reflected on the many faces of human suffering. He mentioned war and hunger, both of these — he said — an effect of the exploitation of the planet. He spoke of deforestation and of trafficking and of how fighting factions in Syria have been armed by others.

“I would invite the producers of arms to spend a day in the camp (in Lesbos): I believe that would be good,” he said.

Turning to the Pope’s recently released Apostolic Exhortation on the family, one journalist asked for clarification saying there are discussions going on between those who maintain that nothing has changed when it comes to the question of access to the sacraments for the divorced and remarried whilst others argue that much has changed on this front.

In his reply, Pope Francis said a lot has changed but he urged the journalists to read the presentation made by Cardinal Schoenborn, describing him as a great theologian who was also Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and whom, he said, has a thorough knowledge of the faith.

“The answer to your question, he declared, is contained in that presentation.”

Pope Francis confessed that he was somewhat annoyed and saddened by the media’s fixation during and after the Synod on the single issue of whether the divorced and remarried would be allowed to take communion.

He said the media didn’t realise that this was not the important question and they fail to notice that the family unit, the cornerstone of our society throughout the world, is in a state of crisis.

“They don’t realise, he went on, that young people don’t want to marry, that the falling birthrate in Europe should make us weep, that there is a lack of jobs, there are fathers and mothers taking on two jobs and children are growing up on their own without having their parents around.”

Again to Pray in St. Mary Major….

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Returning from Lesbos today, Pope Francis prayed at the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore

As expected, Pope Francis, soon after his arrival at Ciampino airport, went to pray before the icon of the Salus Populi Romani kept in the Basilica of St. Mary Major to thank Our Lady for his trip to Greece, to the island of Lesbos, near the Turkish coast.

He has made it his practice to visit the icon and pray before it, before and after each trip that he makes outside of Rome, as well as on some other occasions.

He came for the first time on the morning after his March 13, 2013 election.

It was the 33rd visit of Pope Francis to St. Mary Major since the beginning of his pontificate three years ago.

Here is a list of the visits of the Holy Father to St. Mary Major:

2013 (6 times)

1) March 14, 2013
The day after his election

2) May 4, 2013
Recitation of the Holy Rosary

3) May 30, 2013
Feast of Corpus domains

4) July 20, 2013
Eve of the trip to Brazil

5) July 29, 2013
Return from his trip to Brazil

6) December 8, 2013
After the act of veneration to the Spanish Steps

2014 (11 times)

7) 1 January 2014
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

8) May 23, 2014
Eve of the Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

9) May 27, 2014.
Thanks for the pilgrimage to the Holy Land

10) June 19, 2014
Feast of Corpus Christi

11) August 13, 2014
Eve of the trip to Korea

12) August 18, 2014
Thanksgiving for the pilgrimage to Korea

13) September 18, 2014
Eve of the trip to Albania

14) September 22, 2014
Thanks for the pilgrimage in Albania

15) November 24, 2014
Eve of the trip to Strasbourg and then soon after to Turkey

16) November 30, 2014
Thanksgiving for the pilgrimage to Turkey

17) December 8, 2014
Before the Act of Veneration in Piazza di Spagna (the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception)

2015 (11 times)

18) January 10, 2015
Eve of the trip to Sri Lanka and the Philippines

19) January 19, 2015
Thank you for pilgrimage to Sri Lanka and the Philippines

20) June 4, 2015
Feast of Corpus Christi and visit the Chapel of the Salus Populi Romani on the eve of the trip to Sarajevo (Bosnia)

21) June 7, 2015
Visit to give thanks for the trip to Sarajevo (Bosnia)

22) July 4, 2015
Eve of the Apostolic Journey to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay

23) July 13, 2015
Visit to thank the trip to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay (Latin America)

24) Friday, September 18, 2015
Eve trip to Cuba, the US and UN

25) September 28, 2015
Visit of thanksgiving for the pilgrimage to Cuba and the United States

26) November 24, 2015
Visit to pray for the trip in Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic

27) November 30, 2015
Visit to thank the trip in Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic

28) December 8, 2015
Solemnity of Mary Immaculate. Visit of Pope Francis to venerate the Madonna and pray before the icon of the Salus Populi Romani.

2016 (5 times)

29) 1 January 2016
Visit to celebrate Mass and to open the Holy Door

30) February 11, 2016
Eve of the trip to Mexico

31) February 18, 2016
Visit of thanksgiving for the pilgrimage in Mexico

32) April 14, 2016
Eve of the visit to Lesbos (Greece)

33) April 16, 2016
Pope visits the Basilica to thank the Virgin for his trip to Lesbos, Greece

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What is the glory of God?

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