Pope Francis today, at Casa Santa Marta, where he lives, had lunch with a group of 21 Syrian refugees that today live in Rome, hosted by the Community of Sant’Egidio. These are the families that arrived to Italy after the Pope’s visit to the Island of Lesbo in Greece. The first group of refugees came on the plane with the Pope on April 16th; the second arrived halfway through June. The director of the Newspaper of the Vatican, Greg Burke, praised this event saying “both the adults and the children have had the possibility to speak with Pope Francis about the beginning of their life in Italy. The children gave the Pope a collection of their drawings, which he responded to by giving them games and other gifts.” With Bergoglio, there was the Substitute to the Secretary of States, Angelo Becciu, the Founder of the Community of Sant’Egidio, Andrea Ricardi, as well as other member of the Community, the Commander of the Police, Domenico Giani, and two papal guards that aided in the transfer of the families from Lesbo.
It was a moment of great joy for everyone. The refugees turned to Pope Francis as a father: they told him, some even in Italian, of the drama of the feeling in their homeland, which has been destroyed by war. These refugees come from Homs, Aleppo, and other Syrian cities. They all had a home and a job (some of them a very important and powerful one at that), but lost everything. But where there is pain, there is joy in being able to talk about their new life in Italy, about the integration that was put in place from the day they arrived, of their entrance into the School of Language and Culture of the Community of Sant’Egidio, and of the registration of their children in public schools of Rome. Now they live in different neighborhoods of the city, guests of Sant’Egidio and of the web of men and women created to welcome them. In a difficult battle of generosity, many – both religious congregations and private owners – offered their homes so that these refugees may have a place to live.
Pope Francis listened to their stories while the children, sons and daughters of refugees, played in Santa Marta, in a joyous and welcoming setting. The little Qudus, of nine years old, sang a song for Francis, and, together with the other children, gave him a collection of their drawings that represented the lives that they left behind, the wounds of war, but also the hope of this new life in Italy. In her drawing, Pope Francis is drawn as a butterfly: he has wings like the wings of an airplane, which allowed them to fly far away from war. All of the adults spoke of how Syria was, before the war: a land of coexistence in which relationships between Christians and Muslims happened on a daily business and without problem. The Pope, who carefully listened to their stories, responded by saying “love Syria.”
“We only want peace, that the tragedy that our people is living through come quickly to an end,” repeated many of the refugees, some of whom have already obtained the state-recognized status of refugee. At the end, Suhila, a woman of 50 years, expressed gratitude on behalf of all refugees to the Pope.