Pope Francis on Sunday reflected on the great suffering he had witnessed at the refugee camp in Lesbos. He remembered especially the children he encountered, as well as the husband of a Christian woman who was martyred by terrorists.
“I saw much suffering,” the Pope said during his April 17 Regina Caeli address from the Apostolic palace, one day after his visit to the Greek island.
“To the refugees and the Greek people, I brought the solidarity of the Church,” he said. The Pope added that he was joined by Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew, and Archbishop Ieronymos II of Athens, to signify “unity in the charity of all the disciples of the Lord.”
Lesbos, along with its neighboring island Kos, is one of the major entry points for African and Middle Eastern refugees attempting to enter Europe. Many of the refugees, including those coming from Syria, have made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to the island in order to escape violent conflict and persecution in their homelands.
The International Organization for Migration has said that over 1 million migrants arrived to Europe by sea in 2015 alone, according to the BBC.
In his address, Pope Francis thanked “all who have supported us in prayer” for his April 16 visit to Lesbos.
Speaking about his journey to the Greek island, the Pope recounted his visit to one center housing refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and the African continent.
“We greeted around 300 of these refugees, one at a time, all three (of us): Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop Ieronymos, and myself.”
“Many of them were children. Some of them, these children, have witnessed the deaths of parents and companions,” while many others drowned at sea.
The Pope also cited an encounter with a Muslim man and father of two children, who “wept a lot.”
“He told me he was married to a Christian girl. He loved her,” he said. “But, sadly, this girl was slaughtered by terrorists because she did not wish to deny Christ and abandon her faith. She is a martyr.”
Continuing his address, Pope Francis offered his prayers for the people of Ecuador, who have been affected by Saturday's deadly earthquake, the country's largest since 1979.
At least 77 people were killed and more than 500 injured in the 7.8 earthquake outside northern town of Muisne, the BBC reports.
“We pray for those inhabitants, as well as for those of Japan, where there have been some earthquakes in recent days,” the Pope said.
“May the help of God and their neighbors give them strength and support.”
Before leading the crowds in the Regina Caeli prayer, Pope Francis gave his reflection on the day's Gospel reading, centering his address on what it means to listen to God's voice.
The Pope cited the day's Gospel account in which Jesus refers to his “sheep” who hear his voice and follow him.
“No one can be said to be a follower of Jesus, if he is not ready to listen to his voice,” he said. What is being referred to here is not a “superficial” listening, the Pope explained. Rather, it is a listening which comes not only comes from the ear, but also from “the heart.”
“The image of the shepherd and the sheep shows the close relationship that Jesus wants to establish with each of us,” the Pope said. “He is our guide, our teacher, our friend, our model, but above all he is our Savior.”
“Our life is completely safe in the hands of Jesus and the Father, who are one: one love, one mercy, revealed once and for all in the sacrifice of the cross,” he said
In order to save all of us, “the shepherd became a lamb and let himself be sacrificed in order to take upon himself and take away the sin of the world,” he said. “This mystery is renewed, in an always surprising humility, on the Eucharistic table.”
“For this reason, we no longer fear: our lives are now saved from perdition.”
After the Regina Caeli, Pope Francis recalled that this Sunday is the World Day of Prayer for Vocations, during which the faithful are invited to “pray for vocations to the priesthood and the consecrated life.”
In his address, the Pope greeted in particular eleven newly-ordained priests — nine of whom are from the diocese of Rome — along with their families and friends.
Pope Francis had presided over the priestly ordinations of the eleven men that morning in St. Peter's Basilica.
During the ordination Mass, he delivered the standard homily from the Italian edition of the Pontificale Romanum for the ordination of priests, but digressed from the text several times to offer advice to the men about to be ordained.
“Carry the death of Christ in yourselves, and walk with Christ in newness of life,” he said during the homily in unscripted remarks before the rite of ordination. “Without the cross, you will never find the true Jesus. A cross without Christ makes no sense.”
Pope Francis went on to remind the men to be aware that they have been “chosen among men.”
“Chosen, do not forget this. Chosen! And the Lord who has called you, one by one.”