By BosNewsLife News Center
VATICAN CITY/BUDAPEST (BosNewsLife)– Pope Francis has called a Christian Syrian woman “a martyr” after hearing she was killed by Islamic militants for refusing to deny her faith in Jesus Christ. The leader of the world’s one billion Catholics told the faithful in St. Peter’s Square that he spoke with the young woman’s widow during his visit Saturday, April 16, to the Greek island of Lesbos where he also visited refugees held in an overcrowded detention center.
“He is Muslim, and he told me that he married a Christian girl,” the pope said Sunday, April 17. “They loved each other and respected each other. But unfortunately the young woman’s throat was slashed by terrorists because she didn’t want to deny Christ and abandon her faith.” He added: “She is a martyr!”
Thousands of Christians have been driven out of their homes in Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State group and other Islamic militants. Many believers have been kidnapped and killed for their faith.
Francis said he wanted to bring solidarity of the church to the refugees and the Greek people. “With me were the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, and Archbishop Hieronymous of Athens and of all Greece, to signify the unity in charity of all the disciples of the Lord.”
The pope also thanked those “who accompanied” the voyage with their prayers and recalled how he and the two other prelates met refugees in the Moria detention center, many from Afghanistan, Syria, North Africa and other parts of the world. “So many of them were children!” the pope said, noting how some of the children had witnessed the deaths of parents or companions during their dangerous journey. “I saw so much sorrow,”he recalled.
The centerpiece of Francis’s visit was a tour of the Moria detention facility, where he sat down for lunch with some of the 3,060 men, women and children who are held in overcrowded conditions awaiting a likely deportation order, observers said.
His short visit to Lesbos drew attention to the plight of thousands of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea in search of new lives in Europe. Three Syrian refugee families flew to the Vatican with Pope Francis following the pontiff’s brief but provocative visit to Lesbos, which has become the center of Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War Two.
“The Pope has desired to make a gesture of welcome regarding refugees, accompanying on his plane to Rome three families of refugees from Syria, 12 people in all, including six children,” the Vatican said in a statement.
In the port, the pope gave a speech on the exact spot where, less than two weeks ago, the European Union’s Frontex border officers escorted migrants to waiting ferries that returned them across the sea to Turkey.
It was also seen as a signal to countries such as heavily Catholic Hungary which was among the first nations to build massive fences along its borders with Serbia and Croatia to keep refugees out.
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, who greeted Francis as he descended the stairs from a chartered Alitalia plane Saturday morning, said the pope’s visit to Lesbos was an opportunity to highlight the need to find a legal route into Europe for refugees.
He also praised Greeks for welcoming refugees and other migrants at a time when other countries are not.
“I am proud of this, particularly at a time when some of our partners — even in the name of Christian Europe — were erecting walls and fences to prevent defenseless people from seeking a better life,” he told Francis, an indirect reference to Hungary and other countries along the notorious Balkan route. “That is why I consider that your visit is historic and important.”