“Let us start with the cardinals, the bishops, the priests: let us open our houses, our canonicals, our palaces. We have room, we have the resources. If every monastery, every religious home, every parish, opened its doors to at least one person, at least one family, we would find no one in Lesbos.” The appeal, or rather the cry for help, was made this morning by Card. Konrad Krajewski, Almoner of His Holiness, at Fiumicino airport. He had just arrived from Lesbos with 33 refugees who reached Italy thanks to a humanitarian corridor explicitly requested by Pope Francis and put in place with the intermediation of the Community of Sant’Egidio in accordance with the Ministry of the Interior. “The Pontiff builds the bridges”, the Almoner said. “We have now erected this bridge known as a humanitarian corridor. It’s an evangelical endeavour in all respects.” The Holy See expressed its thanks to the Italian government that enabled this corridor and to the Greek government that, in addition to resolving bureaucratic hurdles, also paid for the tickets of all those who arrived today. “God does great works”, said the Apostolic Almoner. “But we can multiply these corridors with the support of all people of good will: it will be our miracle.”
In addition to the group of 33 refugees who arrived today, a second group of 10 will be arriving in the next few days, totalling 43 people. They come from Afghanistan, Cameroon and Togo. They all walked for miles to reach Turkey and from there, they were forcibly transferred to the island of Lesbos. They were welcomed at Fiumicino airport by volunteers from Sant’Egidio who spent some time on the island this summer.
They have vivid memories of the extreme poverty and neglect experienced in the Moria refugee camp set up by the Greek Government, meant to shelter 3,000 people but which currently houses at least twice as many.
Equal numbers found “shelter” in tents outside the perimeter of the camp with a total population of 15 thousand people, some say as many as 17 thousand. “We visited the camp with the Community of Saint Egidio last May and there were only 7,000 people”, said Cardinal Krajewski. “In the past few days we saw more than twice as many, along with 800 unaccompanied children. Advent is a time of awakening. The message of this first corridor in Europe is: everyone, wake up! The new cardinal archbishop of Luxembourg set an example by personally providing for two families two weeks ago. He welcomed them into his house and now they are living together. We must start with ourselves.”
The creation of this humanitarian corridor dates back to April 2106, when Pope Francis, together with Patriarch Bartholomew and the Orthodox Archbishop of Greece Ieronymos, visited the island of Lesbos. On that occasion, Pope Francis took three families of refugees on his return flight to Rome. Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, returned to the Greek island in May: “I was very upset by that extremely dire situation. We encountered a wounded humanity,” he said. “I remember that an Afghani woman said: ‘I overcame many difficulties but in this place, behind this fencing, I have lost all hope’. Back in Rome, I shared this story with the Holy Father and he replied: ‘We must do something so that my journey is not just an isolated event but a beginning, we must send a sign of hope’.” Thus began the cooperation with the Office of Papal Charities and with the Apostolic Almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, driven by the conviction that the people of Lesbos must no longer embark on those journeys of horror, fear and risk. Then addressing the newcomers directly, Riccardi said:
“You are starting a new life and we will be there for you. The humanitarian corridors represent the first step in a process that we would like to be European, shared by all European countries.”