Last Sunday 5 December, the Jesuit Refugee Service Greece was invited to attend the Sunday Mass led by Pope Francis at the Megaro Mousikis in Athens, during his 3-day visit to Greece.
With over 2,000 people attending, Pope Francis led the ceremony in front of a packed hall and shared a message of justice and solidarity. During the homily, he called to show charity and stand along those that are inadequate, showing compassion. “Let us ask for the grace of hope, since hope revives our faith and rekindles our charity. It is for this hope that the deserts of today’s world are thirsting.”
Father Pierre, the responsible of the Jesuit Community in Athens, delivered a letter to the Pope in the name of JRS Greece, to express gratitude for the empathy shown towards refugees and forcibly displaced people arriving Greece. Together with the letter, the pontifex also given a gift with photos and drawings by the children of Magistories, a programme managed by JRS Greece for vulnerable minors that frequent the area of Victoria Square, where thousands of people live homeless in Athens; and was shown a newsletter prepared by the children of Pedro Arrupe, a non-formal education centre run by JRS Greece where vulnerable kids receive extra classes and support.
In return, Pope Francis awarded JRS Greece a medal as a sign of gratitude for the tireless work. An inspiration for JRS and allorganisations working on the front line, the Pope’s visit was an opportunity to reinstate JRS commitment to honouring human dignity and building a more inclusive world, where no one is left behind.
Pope Francis also travelled to the Mavrovouni tent camp on Lesbos, the largest camp in Greece, which he already visited in 2016 after almost one million people had landed on the Greek islands the year before. With numbers of asylum seekers crossing to Greece dropping, Moira appeared drastically different than during his first visit. The Pope said that “When human lives are in peril… national borders become irrelevant” and called the neglect of migrants the “shipwreck of civilisation”.
But in the past 5 years, conditions for millions of migrants in Greece have not improved. Reports from multiple sources have recorded serious allegations of Greek authorities conducting pushbacks on the borders, which partially accounts for the reduced number of arrivals. New EU-funded “Closed and Controlled” centres are being opened on the Greek islands, where refugees are to be detained with limited access to services. Overall, the Greek government is implementing a strict migration policy that has an enormous impact on the migrant community.
JRS Greece joined over 36 other Greek organisations and signed a letter, directed to Pope Francis, expressing concern regarding recent developments on the refugee crisis and the European response. Condemning EU States for forgoing their responsibilities towards people seeking international protection, against European and Christian values, the letter asks the Pontifex to deploy his influence to:
- Condemn European countries for deals with Third Countries, such as Turkey, which exchanges financial compensation with duties on international protection, shifting responsibility and hindering the safety of forcibly displaced people;
- Call on the Greek State to formulate a plan for the integration of refugees; at the same time asking the EU to introduce a mandatory relocation plan, acting in solidarity with border countries;
- Condemn illegal pushbacks of people back to Turkey and all human rights violation on European borders; calls for the establishment of an independent border monitoring mechanism to investigate these incidents;
- Condemn the establishment of “Closed and Controlled” centres on the Greek islands, which deprive people of their freedom and hinder their integration; instead, call for their radical reform;
Read the full letter: Letter for His Holiness