Pope Francis to Visit Greek Island of Lesbos April 16

Refugees arriving in Lesbos on an overloaded dingy last September.
Refugees arriving in Lesbos on an overloaded dingy last September. (photo: YouTube/Channel4)

Pope Francis is to visit the Greek island of Lesbos next Saturday, the Vatican has announced.

In a communique released this morning, the Vatican said:

"Accepting the invitations from His Holiness Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, and the President of the Hellenic Republic, His Holiness Francis will visit Lesbos on Saturday 16 April, 2016. 

On the island, the Holy Father, His Holiness Bartholomew, and His Holiness Jerome II, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, will meet with the refugees accommodated there."

Details of the visit are still being worked out, but its principal aim is to show support and solidarity for refugees in the front line of Europe’s migrant crisis. 

Hundreds of thousands of refugees, many fleeing the war in Syria, have poured onto the Aegean island over the past year. But under a controversial plan, the European Union started returning newcomers to neighboring Turkey this month.

The Pope's visit to the Greek territory will be his second trip to an island hosting large numbers of refugees. In 2013, he visited the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, which, like Lesbos, has received hundreds of thousands of migrants.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters today: "It's very clear that the Pope recognizes that there is a significant emergency going on. Just as he went to Lampedusa, which was then the front line of the Mediterranean route, now that there is this difficult, dramatic situation on the Aegean front, he naturally wants to be present to show a sense of solidarity and responsibility."

Father Lombardi also said it is an "iinitiative of all Christian churches together." As well as a public encounter between the Pope and Patriarch Bartholomew, an ecumenical prayer meeting is expected.