Pope Francis made a private visit to the Astalli refugee center in Rome on Tuesday, and, while meeting with several hundred refugees, singled out a Syrian family to listen to their story. The family was given time with the pope during the visit to represent the present emergency in their homeland, an Astalli representative told Radio Vaticana. The Pope also talked with a Sudanese man.
Astalli is a high-volume refugee center run by Pope Francis’ own Jesuit order—more than 21 thousand refugees, from regions including Afghanistan, Egypt, and sub-Saharan Africa, passed through Centro Astalli last year. Many of the undocumented migrants are Muslims fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa. The center, a branch of the Jesuit Refugee Service, offers three shelters, a language school, and health and legal services, as well as special care for victims of torture who need psychiatric or psychological care.
Pope Francis has prioritized refugees from the very beginning of his papacy. In April, he called the head of the Centro Astalli on his cell phone and promised that he would come visit. In July, his first official trip as pontiff was to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa to commemorate the thousands of migrants who have died crossing the sea from northern Africa. “We have become used to other people’s suffering, it doesn’t concern us, it doesn’t interest us, it’s none of our business!” he preached then. “Their condition cannot leave us indifferent.”
It is a message Pope Francis continues to advocate in the midst of the Syrian crisis. At his Vigil for Peace on Saturday, he urged people around the world to care for the people torn apart by war and violence: “Am I really my brother’s keeper? Yes, you are your brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another! […] Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation—these are the words of peace, in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world!”
Update, 11:49am, EST: The Syrian refugee, named Carol, told Pope Francis, ”The Syrians in Europe feel a great responsibility to not be a burden, we want to be an active part of a new society.” He responded to her words in his address to the refugees. “This too is a right!” he said, and then asked if the people of the world would accompany refugees on this journey.