Pope welcomes hundreds of refugees to Vatican

03/18/2023 21:15 (act. 03/18/2023 21:15)

Pope blesses a child during his reception for refugees ©APA/AFP

Pope Francis received hundreds of refugees and their helpers at the Vatican on Saturday. In the overcrowded auditorium, he welcomed people who had arrived safely in Europe through so-called “humanitarian corridors” in recent years, Kathpress said. The Pope highlighted that it is a joint action of the Community of Sant’Egidio, Italian Caritas, the evangelical Churches of Italy and various European governments.

In the presence of the visibly moved Pope, individual refugees from Libya and Lebanon told their stories of escape. Helpers who welcomed migrants into their homes also spoke about their experiences.

The Pope emphasized that escaping through safe corridors is an important alternative to the often deadly route by sea. The Mediterranean must not be allowed to become a cemetery, Francis said.

The organization of humanitarian corridors to escape war and emergency areas was started in 2016. According to helpers, 6,800 people have arrived in Europe this way since then, including many children. Most of them were housed in Italy. France, Belgium, Andorra and the Republic of San Marino are also participating in the campaign.

Last year alone, 105,000 migrants landed in Italy illegally, mostly on boats across the Mediterranean, compared with around 60,000 the year before. Hundreds of people drown trying to reach Europe every year.

In his speech, which the visibly exhausted Pope did not read in full, he said: “This initiative is tragically topical and more necessary than ever. This is also demonstrated by the recent sinking of Cutro. This sinking was not allowed, and everything must be done so that it doesn’t happen again.” The humanitarian escape corridors are “bridges that so many children, women, men and the elderly have used in safety, legality and dignity. They cross borders and the walls of indifference on which the hope of so many people is shattered”.

After his speech, the Pope shook hundreds of hands and gave small gifts to children as he drove through the crowd in a wheelchair.