The head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, visited the Greek island of Lesbos last Saturday, along with Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop of Athens Ieronymos, head of the Church of Greece.
The high profile visit's purpose was to underline the suffering of the refugees. The three Christian leaders from Catholic and Orthodox churches put aside their differences and thanked Turkey and Greece for their hospitality toward these desperate people. This was of course not only a humanitarian or religious initiative, but also a political one. It was a strong criticism against European countries' attitude toward the migrants and the egoism of a number of governments.
As leaders of their respective churches, they have directly addressed their communities and called for their faithful to grow more sensitive for the issue. It was interesting, on the other hand, that they didn't feel the need to call a Muslim religious leader to accompany them. It was nice of them to thank Turkey for the great effort it displayed to protect the refugees; but to hold an only Christian meeting in Lesbos gave the feeling that something was missing.
If a Muslim religious leader were alongside, some Greeks wouldn't accuse the pope of trying to impose its presence on Orthodox land. Besides, it wouldn't give an additional pretext to those who like to comment on everything in the world from the perspective of a Muslim-Christian dichotomy.
The pope said very important things during this short visit. He reminded everyone that refugees are not just numbers they are human beings. They all have their personal stories, their families, their past and their dreams. It is true that most countries look at the refugee problem only through figures: Administrative minds are obsessed by the number of people who wait at the border, the number of people who can potentially try to immigrate, the number of people who stay at the camps and so on. How much money have we spent on them so far, how much more do we need to cover the expenses in coming months, how much we do need for rescue operations? These are real and important questions, but they are all about figures. What is going on, however, is not simply a mathematical question, but a human drama, as the case of the toddler, called Aylan, showed the world last year. The pope suggested that Europe has failed this humanitarian test.
Refugees in Lesbos were quite happy to see the Pope travel to them in an effort to witness their suffering. They shouted to him: "Save us." In a symbolic gesture, the Pope took 12 people with him on his way back to the Vatican. If the smallest country on earth is able to receive those people, how many people should Spain, Poland or Russia receive?
We ignore the criteria used to pick those specific 12 people among thousands of refugees waiting on the Aegean island, as some say there are at least 3,000 refugees on Lesbos. The pope probably didn't think that 12 people would be good enough, but it was a symbol, after all.
The majority of refugees are of the Muslim faith. Unfortunately, some people in the Muslim world may interpret the pope's gesture, especially the fact that children were among the small group he brought to the Vatican, as an effort at conversion. That would be a perfect example of manipulating a good deed as an instrument to spread hatred. That's why it would be nice to invite a Muslim religious leader to that important and highly symbolic gathering.