Pope, Ecumenical Patriarch and Greek Church head to visit refugees on Lesbos

(Photo: REUTERS / Filippo Monteforte / Pool)Pope Francis (L) and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I sign a joint statement at St George church, the principal Greek Orthodox cathedral, in Istanbul November 30, 2014. Pope Francis began a visit to Turkey on Friday with the delicate mission of strengthening ties with Muslim leaders while condemning violence against Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.

In a truly econmenical effort Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians and the head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Hieronymus, are to visit refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos.

The aim of the April 14 and 15 visit to highlight the plight of refugees, the Greek government said, due to refugees and other migrants are being deported back to Turkey under a controversial European Union program to ease Europe's migrant burden.

The trip was announced after a meeting on April 5 of the Holy Synod, the governing body of the Church of Greece, over which Hieronymus presided.

According to a statement from the  Athens-based synod, the Greek Orthodox church accepted the Pope's proposal for a "symbolic and humanitarian" visit to Greece to "draw the attention of the international community to the need for an immediate ceasefire in the conflicts" in the Middle East.

"The personality and prestige of the Ecumenical Patriarch," who is based in Istanbul, "and the weight of the presence of the Pope will send a resounding wakeup call to the international community," the Greek church said in its statement.

The Church of Greece statement noted,that its Holy Synod had accepted the proposal for the Pope to visit an Aegean island because it would be a one-day, non-protocol and "clear humanitarian and symbolic visit."

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