Pope Francis decries ‘shipwreck of civilization’ as he visits refugees on Greek island of Lesbos

Francis visits refugee camp on Greek island, from where people flee for Europe, despite his strong plea last year that they should be able to return to their country of origin

Pope Francis decries ‘shipwreck of civilization’ as he visits refugees on Greek island of Lesbos

Pope Francis on Wednesday decried the “shipwreck of civilization” and the “indifference of the world” to the refugee crisis as he visited a Greek island to listen to the testimonies of more than 200 immigrants who arrived at Lesbos last year.

The pontiff, addressing them in the Church of St Nicholas on Lesbos, urged Europe not to close its doors to refugees, adding that “the boats aren’t going to stop coming.”

“I’m ashamed to witness all that I have witnessed here,” he said. “Do not close your doors. Do not turn your backs.”

He also spoke of the European desire to close its doors after the continent’s 2007 asylum policy allowed many of the migrants to board Greek-owned ships with the permission of the Greek authorities.

“I do not think that anyone, with all his or her best intentions, hopes for the creation of a sovereign continent with hundreds of thousands of heads of every kind of people who won’t come back.”

Francis has ordered all Vatican officialdom to get involved in the crisis, visiting Italy and Greece in March to see how the churches and communities are helping the refugees.

“A geopolitical mentality of building walls has been adopted, which I would like to denunciation as a shipwreck of civilization,” he said.

Pope Francis: ‘I’m ashamed to witness all I have witnessed’ Read more

On board the boat, Francis heard account of life on Lesbos from 22 women and children – including children – who arrived at the island’s harbour in a flotilla of dinghies in the eastern Mediterranean in October 2015.

In March, the pope enraged many on the Italian island of Lampedusa after he said the crowded migrant camps there “look like prisons”.

Lampedusa, where thousands of migrants have drowned, is trying to seek help from the pope to better train migrant reception staff and become self-sufficient in the face of a constant stream of new arrivals.

The pontiff also heard testimonies from Syrian women who came to Europe looking for political asylum.

“We don’t want to go back to Syria,” one of them said. “We want to live in Europe with our children like every other child.”

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