The Vatican said Saturday that Pope Francis was returning to Rome from a visit to the Greek island of Lesbos—which has been at the center of the European refugee crisis—with 12 Muslim refugees who would be looked after by the Catholic Church.
The move came just as Europe has dramatically tightened the restrictions on the flow of refugees. In early April, the European Union and Turkey began enforcing a deal which allowed refugees arriving on Greek islands to be deported to Turkey. For every refugee sent to Turkey, Turkey is then allowed to send a Syrian refugee living within its borders to Europe.
From the Associated Press:
The Vatican said the three families, including six children, would be supported by the Holy See and cared for by Italy's Catholic Sant'Egidio Community. Sant'Egidio has worked out a program with the Italian government to grant deserving refugees humanitarian visas to live in Italy while their asylum applications are being processed.
The Vatican said Francis wanted to make a "gesture of welcome" at the end of his five-hour visit to Lesbos, where he implored Europe to respond to the migrant crisis on its shores "in a way that is worthy of our common humanity."
Reporters from around the world, including the Vatican's official newspaper, watched the families board the official papal plane.
Francis also addressed his visit to Lesbos—where he met with throngs of people at a refugee camp and delivered a formal address about the humanitarian issues surrounding the crisis—on his many social media platforms.
Here are more images of the Pope's visit to Lesbos.