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At the table with Francis

· ​Lunch in the Casa Santa Marta for the twenty-one Syrian refugees arriving from Lesvos ·

At the table with Francis. On Thursday, 11 August, Pope Francis had lunch in the Casa Santa Marta with the 21 Syrian refugees who have been welcomed in Rome. The refugees described it as “a moment of celebration” as a great message of peace and hope “so great that we cannot even find the words to express it”. Suhila Ayiad conveyed these thoughts to Pope Francis on behalf of the group. Before the meal, the Pope prayed “for this family”, that the Lord “give us peace in our land”. Afterwards he listened to their dramatic stories.

Francis has welcomed five families, along with three others, also Syrian, who hope to be reunited soon with their loved ones. The entire group, which includes nine minors, came from the refugee camp of Lesvos. Nineteen are Muslims and two are Christians – one Syro-Orthodox and one Catholic. The first group (three families, comprised of 12 people) came on the airplane with Francis on 16 April. The second group (two families plus three individuals) arrived on 16 June.

The simple menu, with fish as the main course, along with pasta and tomato sauce, and french fries for the little ones, was served on a U-shaped table. The exchange of gifts was festive: Francis was given an album of illustrations made by the children. The drawings depict “the beauty of having a home” without forgetting “the horrors of war”.

The phrase “I’m saved” deeply moved the Pope, as did the illustrations of Syria devastated by violence. Masa, an imaginative eight-year-old, drew a butterfly to represent the Pope. Because, Masa told him, “you brought us to safety, to peace, on your wings”.

Francis had also prepared a gift for each child and consigned them personally. He thanked all of them for having confidence in him and in his coworkers. “You came here”, he said, “without knowing where you were going”. He also shared that he had been struck by the atmosphere of joy that these families are living in, evidenced by the irrepressible energy of the little ones: especially Ahmad, born on 1 January 2015, and Riad, just over two years old, who got more than a chuckle out of Francis. After thanking the group for their visit, the Pope also asked them to pray for him.

The event began at 12:25 and lasted for about an hour and 40 minutes. Archbishop Angelo Becciu, Substitute of the Secretariat of State, and Domenico Giani, Commandant of the Vatican Gendarmerie Corps, also attended, along with Lucia Cintia and Stefano De Santis, the two agents directly involved with the practical considerations of the refugees. Also on hand were representatives of the community of Sant’Egidio, which made the welcome possible: its founder, Andrea Riccardi was accompanied by Daniela Pompei and Cecilia Pani, who provide services to migrants, and by Moustafa Chahade and Youssef Atais, who play a role as mediators for the refugees. 

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Dec. 15, 2017

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