On Saturday, Pope Francis landed in Athens for the second phase of a tour to the Mediterranean aimed at drawing attention to the situation of migrants and refugees.
Following a two-day visit to Cyprus, Pope Francis flew to Greece, one of the primary entrance sites into the European Union for asylum seekers escaping violence and poverty in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.
Francis was met by young children dressed in traditional Greek attire, as well as a boy from Africa and a girl from the Philippines, as he walked off the plane.
Francis, who has made defense of migrants and refugees a cornerstone of his papacy, will travel to the island of Lesbos for the second time on Sunday to visit a migrant reception center set up after the notorious Moria camp burned to the ground last year.
During a previous visit to the island in 2016, Francis walked through Moria, a camp decried by rights groups for its squalid and overcrowded conditions, and asylum-seekers fell to his feet, wept and begged for help.
He memorably took three Syrian refugee families with him on the plane back to Rome. The pope arranged to have 50 migrants from Cyprus relocated to Italy after his trip this week.
At an emotional meeting with asylum-seekers in Cyprus on Friday, Francis, citing conditions in Libya and elsewhere, said he had a responsibility to tell the truth about the suffering of refugees, many held in conditions he compared to those in Nazi and Soviet camps.
In Athens, the pope will meet Greece’s president and prime minister as well as young people at a Catholic school. A large Mass is planned on Sunday evening at the Athens Concert Hall.
Authorities banned protests in central Athens during the three-day visit after healthcare workers and other groups said they were planning to demonstrate on Saturday against mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations outside parliament.
Some 5,000 police officers will be deployed to the streets of the capital on Monday, the last day of the pope’s visit, which coincides with 13th anniversary of the police killing of a teenager. Often, the anniversary draws large crowds and violence.