|Friday, 22 March 2019|
Athens Macedonian News Agency: News in English, 16-04-17
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From: The Athens News Agency at <http://www.ana.gr/>
 Tearful scenes and a shared meal with refugees during Church leaders' visit to LesvosPope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew and Greece's Archbishop Ieronymos wrapped up their visit to the Moria hotspot on the island of Lesvos on Saturday by sharing a meal with three refugee families at the centre.
After making their speeches, meeting with refugees and signing a joint declaration, the leader of the Catholic Church, the spiritual head of the world's Orthodox Christians and the head of the Church of Greece joined in the camp's regular meal of rice and vegetables, olives, bread and halva.
They had earlier appealed for the protection of minorities and action against the trafficking in people, as well as the eradication of unsafe routes for people fleeing violence, such as the boat crossings in the Aegean and the Mediterranean, and their replacement by safe relocation and resettlement processes.
All three expressed their solidarity toward the people of Greece, noting that they had responded to the crisis with generosity, despite facing their own, serious economic problems.
Arriving from Mytilene airport, the three Church leaders had dispensed with both protocol and the stiff security measures, mingling freely with the refugees at the Moria hotspot, now a closed detention centre following the deal struck by the EU and Turkey on March 20. Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos shook hands with hundreds of unaccompanied minors, met mothers and held their small children in their arms, while weeping men and women knelt before them, asking for their blessing and their help.
The first group were the unaccompanied children, who came with drawings and signs that welcomed the three religious leaders but also asked to be allowed to join their families in northern Europe. Other refugees and migrants, most of whom arrived after March 20 and found themselves detained, carried signs and chanted slogans asking for 'Freedom'.
A young refugee sobbed as he kissed the hands of the Pope and Patriarch, asking them to do something to give the refugees reason to hope.
Pope Francis concluded his visit to the Aegean island of Lesvos on Saturday afternoon, after spending five hours on the island. He returned with 12 Syrian refugees from the Moria camp that boarded the aircraft with him and will stay at the Vatican with a Catholic charity.
The official translation of the declaration signed by the three religious leaders is given below:
We, Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and All Greece, have met on the Greek island of Lesvos to demonstrate our profound concern for the tragic situation of the numerous refugees, migrants and asylum seekers who have come to Europe fleeing from situations of conflict and, in many cases, daily threats to their survival. World opinion cannot ignore the colossal humanitarian crisis created by the spread of violence and armed conflict, the persecution and displacement of religious and ethnic minorities, and the uprooting of families from their homes, in violation of their human dignity and their fundamental human rights and freedoms.
The tragedy of forced migration and displacement affects millions, and is fundamentally a crisis of humanity, calling for a response of solidarity, compassion, generosity and an immediate practical commitment of resources. From Lesvos, we appeal to the international community to respond with courage in facing this massive humanitarian crisis and its underlying causes, through diplomatic, political and charitable initiatives, and through cooperative efforts, both in the Middle East and in Europe.
As leaders of our respective Churches, we are one in our desire for peace and in our readiness to promote the resolution of conflicts through dialogue and reconciliation. While acknowledging the efforts already being made to provide help and care to refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, we call upon all political leaders to employ every means to ensure that individuals and communities, including Christians, remain in their homelands and enjoy the fundamental right to live in peace and security. A broader international consensus and an assistance programme are urgently needed to uphold the rule of law, to defend fundamental human rights in this unsustainable situation, to protect minorities, to combat human trafficking and smuggling, to eliminate unsafe routes, such as those through the Aegean and the entire Mediterranean, and to develop safe resettlement procedures. In this way we will be able to assist those countries directly engaged in meeting the needs of so many of our suffering brothers and sisters. In particular, we express our solidarity with the people of Greece, who despite their own economic difficulties, have responded with generosity to this crisis.
Together we solemnly plead for an end to war and violence in the Middle East, a just and lasting peace and the honourable return of those forced to abandon their homes. We ask religious communities to increase their efforts to receive, assist and protect refugees of all faiths, and that religious and civil relief services work to coordinate their initiatives. For as long as the need exists, we urge all countries to extend temporary asylum, to offer refugee status to those who are eligible, to expand their relief efforts and to work with all men and women of good will for a prompt end to the conflicts in course.
Europe today faces one of its most serious humanitarian crises since the end of the Second World War. To meet this grave challenge, we appeal to all followers of Christ to be mindful of the Lord's words, on which we will one day be judged: «For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to meâ€¦ Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me» (Mt 25:35-36, 40).
For our part, in obedience to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, we firmly and wholeheartedly resolve to intensify our efforts to promote the full unity of all Christians. We reaffirm our conviction that «reconciliation [among Christians] involves promoting social justice within and among all peoplesâ€¦ Together we will do our part towards giving migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers a humane reception in Europe» (Charta Oecumenica, 2001). By defending the fundamental human rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, and the many marginalized people in our societies, we aim to fulfil the Churches' mission of service to the world.
Our meeting today is meant to help bring courage and hope to those seeking refuge and to all those who welcome and assist them. We urge the international community to make the protection of human lives a priority and, at every level, to support inclusive policies which extend to all religious communities. The terrible situation of all those affected by the present humanitarian crisis, including so many of our Christian brothers and sisters, calls for our constant prayer.
 Pope's Lesvos visit 'an important initiative at a crucial time', PM Tsipras saysGreek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras described the papal visit to the island of Lesvos on Saturday as a "significant initiative at a crucial time," during his meeting in Mytilene with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens and All Greece, government sources said. Tsipras was on the island in order to receive Pope Francis on his historic visit, intending to focus international attention on the refugee crisis.
In a brief dialogue held on camera, the prime minister noted that the visit illustrated the universal human values of solidarity when others, in the name of Christianity, were greeting the refugees with walls, fences and violence. He noted that the initiative by the three Church leaders would send a message transcending both Greek and European borders.
"This is very important, both for Greece and for the refugee crisis," he added and noted that Greece was currently hosting roughly 50,000 refugees and striving to create acceptable living conditions for them, in spite of the difficulties. He also pointed out that Turkey was having to cope with close to two million and "the important thing is to give a message of peace; this war must stop, we must think about what these people are fleeing in order to go through this ordeal."
"If the war does not end, the waves of refugees will continue," Patriarch Bartholomew agreed, expressing his support for a proposal to nominate the islanders on Lesvos for a Nobel peace prize.
 Meetings with Greek officials in Washington 'constructive', IMF's Lagarde reportsInternational Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde described the talks held with Greek authorities in the United States as "constructive" during a press conference in Washington on Saturday.
She announced that IMF representatives will return to Athens at the start of next week to continue with the review of the Greek programme.
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