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“You are in my backyard”

2016-04-13 09:02

“You are in my backyard – and so I am going to visit you to see how you are, what’s happening with you and the family and to hear your story”... and so Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew have planned to travel together in an unprecedented trip to the migrants huddled together on the Greek island of Lesbos. 

The leaders of the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Churches, brother descendants of the brother Apostles Peter and Andrew, will show the world that there is no room for selfish and insensitive nimbyism in today’s world. Will their visit do anything to help change the situation? Governments are entrapped in tragedy on one side and, on the other, an increasing inability to cope with an unending stream of destitute people who cling to their hopes of security, whether from conflict or from poverty.

Patriarch Bartholomew has described the forthcoming visit to Lesbos as “an initiative to encourage Christian communities and refugees”. The Orthodox Church added that, “The personality and prestige of the Ecumenical Patriarch and the weight of the presence of the Pope will send a resounding wakeup call to the international community.” Will it?

In July 2013, Pope Francis visited the Italian island of Lampedusa, another significant destination for migrants, one which, like Lesbos, has seen innumerable deaths. He said he went to Lampedusa “to pray, to make a gesture of closeness, but also to reawaken our consciences so that what happened would not be repeated.”

Yet, in spite of his best efforts, things haven’t changed: people still clamber into unseaworthy boats which sink and throw their occupants into the water. When the media showed the drowned toddler Aylan Kurdi lying on a Turkish beach, countless thousands suddenly realised that his death happened in their backyard and called for change. The lifeless body of little Aylan Kurdi stripped bare many attitudes of “Not in my backyard”.

It took the death of a three-year-old to bring home the human tragedy of the migrants. Can Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew challenge the world to think differently? These people are in our backyard. May the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch lead the world to a new openness towards them. 

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