With a cheering crowd in the background, Pope Francis visited the Astalli refugee center in Rome. He began by meeting group of volunteers, who last year alone, helped over 20,000 people. One by one, the Pope then greeted 40 refugees from different parts of the world. He then sat with them while sipping a cup of maté, the traditional Argentinian tea.
During his speech, the Pope said one should serve, accompany and defend refugees.
"I think of the women, of mothers, who endure this to ensure a future for their children and the hope of a different life for themselves and their family.”
Isabel left her native Colombia 13 years ago. As a political refugee she says the Pope's words meant a lot, both personally and spiritually.
"So, who exactly are refugees? We're people who escape from armed conflicts, from wars. But we don't leave because we want to leave our home country behind. No!”
In addition to the Pope's call to serve, accompany and defend, the Pope made a very direct request. Instead of using empty convents as improvised hotels, the Pope invited religious to use the convents to shelter refugees.
FR. GIOVANNI LA MANNA
Astalli Refugee Center, President
"When the Pope invited religious to open the doors of their convents, it's a strong sign that correlates to a concrete and real problem. Institutions that provide shelter are facing a crisis.”
Thirty three year old Adam Sidig also met the Pope. He fled his native Sudan to escape a violent war. He says support centers like this one offered him incredible support.
Refugee from Sudan
"The Astalli center has helped me so much. Not just me, but so many other refugees. When you arrive to a country, you look for a place to sleep, to eat and a way to learn the language. The Astalli center gave me this support so it's very special to me.”
The Astalli center is managed by Jesuits. After his speech at the Gesu Church, the Pope prayed before the tomb of Fr. Pedro Arrupe. The founder of the Jesuit Service for Refugees was laid to rest at that very church.