Francis meets young refugees before returning to Rome

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During the meeting the Pope condemned the degrading conditions in which refugees are forced to live as “intolerable”. “I wanted to meet more refugees but it was not possible,” he added. Before making his way tot he airport, Francis paid a visit to the Armenian Patriarch who is currently in hospital.

“Greater international cooperation” is needed in order “to counter the causes” of the “intolerable” degrading conditions in which refugees are forced to live. Francis said this in his address to a hundred or so young Christians and Muslims, most of them children, who are being assisted by the Salesians and Caritas Istanbul. The young people came from families of refugees currently living in Turkey.

“I have greatly desired to meet with you, youth from Turkey, Syria, Iraq and other countries of the Middle East and Africa. I wanted to meet more refugees but it was not possible,” a Francis said looking tired and visibly moved at the meeting which took place in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, in Istanbul.

This was the last official meeting of the Pope’s three-day visit to Turkey. It was brought forward a little bit, in order to give Francis time to pay a quick visit to the Armenian Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Mesrob Mutafian, who was admitted to San Salvatore hospital after falling into a coma some years ago. Francis is expected to take the flight from Istanbul airport back to Rome at about 5 pm local time. Before this morning’s Divine Liturgy with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (who will be at the airport this evening to wave Francis off), the Pope held a 15 minute or so meeting with the Chief Rabbi of Turkey, Isak Haleva.

The “difficult situation” in which these young people live, Francis said in his address to them, “is the sad consequence of brutal conflicts and war, which are always evils and which never solve problems. Rather, they only create new ones. Refugees, such as yourselves, often find themselves deprived, sometimes for long periods, of basic needs such as a dignified home, healthcare, education and work. They have had to abandon not only their material possessions, but above all their freedom, closeness to family, their homeland and cultural traditions. The degrading conditions in which so many refugees are forced to live are intolerable! For this reason, we must do everything possible to eradicate the causes of this situation. I appeal for greater international cooperation to resolve the conflicts which are causing bloodshed in your homelands, to counter the other causes which are driving people to leave their home countries, and to improve conditions so that people may remain or return home. I encourage all who are working generously and steadfastly for justice and peace not to lose heart. I ask political leaders to always remember that the great majority of their people long for peace, even if at times they lack the strength and voice to demand it.” The Pope thanked the Catholic organisations that “are doing a great deal for refugees.” He also expressed his “deep gratitude” to the Turkish authorities for the great efforts they have made in assisting the displaced, in particular Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and for the authorities’ tangible commitment in trying to meet their needs.” “I hope that the necessary support of the international community may not be lacking.”

“Dear young people, do not be discouraged,” Francis said. “It is easier said than done but try not to be discouraged.” “For my part, together with the whole Church, I will continue to pray to the Lord, asking him to inspire those in leadership, so that they will not hesitate to promote justice, security and peace and do so in ways that are clear and effective. Through her social and charitable organizations, the Church will remain at your side and will continue to hold up your cause before the world.” At the end of the meeting, a girl greeted the Pope on behalf of the group, recalling the tragic realities from which these young people have escaped.

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By Iacopo Scaramuzzi