Some days ago Pope Francis made a surprise visit to the island of Lesvos.
The Pope was met at Mytilini airport by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos.
The three religious leaders visited the refugee camp at Moria which holds around 3.000 people.
In his speech at the camp, Patriarch Bartholomew told the residents: “The world has not forgotten you. The world will be judged by the way it has treated you.” Archbishop Ieronymos decried “the bankruptcy of humanity and solidarity” that Europe has shown migrants lately. Pope Francis called on the international community to respond to the crisis “in a way worthy of our common humanity.”
The three religious leaders then signed a declaration urging the international community to protect human lives and extend temporary asylum to those in need.
In a symbolic gesture, the Pope took 12 refugees back with him to the Vatican.
In 2013, the Pope had made a similar trip to the island of Lampedusa, to visit the refugees arriving there from Libya.
Visits such as these serve to highlight this humanitarian disaster, as do visits from celebrities. They have no political clout; the Vatican was at pains to point out the Pope’s visit was “humanitarian and religious in nature.”
One question remains – why do Muslim leaders not feel the need to make similar gestures? After all, most of these refugees are Muslims who could derive a lot of comfort from such a visit.
The response of ordinary Muslims to the refugee crisis has been great. Surrounding countries host the bulk of the Syrian refugee population. Many of the neighbouring countries – Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt – have shown remarkable spirit in taking, altogether, millions of refugees. Unfortunately, some of the most affluent Muslim countries have not followed suit.
I also find it strange that Muslim leaders are not more concerned in showing the world that Muslims are not necessarily terrorists, a self-evident fact which is getting buried by the fear generated by the proliferation of Islamist terrorist attacks. Perhaps there is something here I don’t know – I would welcome any feedback anyone might have on the subject.