Refugees Befriended by Pope Francis Describe “Miracle” Journey to Rome

The youngest Syrian refugee aboard the papal plane was 2-year-old Riyad, carried here by his mother Nour. (Religion News Service photo by Rosie Scammell)
The youngest Syrian refugee aboard the papal plane was 2-year-old Riyad, carried here by his mother Nour. (Religion News Service photo by Rosie Scammell)

Three Syrian families flown to Rome by Pope Francis are calling their trip from the battle lines of a five-year civil war to safety in the shadow of the Vatican a “miracle” journey.

The heart of Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, with its picturesque cobbled streets and vine-covered walls, could not be farther from the asylum-seeker camp the Muslim families were living in just three days ago.

That was until the pope’s lightning trip to the Greek island of Lesbos on Saturday (April 16) that drew attention to the plight of refugees and ended with him bringing the 12 Syrians back to Rome on the papal plane.

“It was a miracle for us; he saved us. It was wonderful news; we didn’t expect it,” said Osama, a 36-year-old printer, who spoke through a translator as he and the others met with journalists on Monday (April 18).

Osama and his wife Wasa, 29 — they just used first names for security reasons — were only told on Friday that they would be leaving Lesbos with the pope a day later. Their two children, 6-year-old Masar and her brother Omar, 8, were said to be happy despite yawning and rubbing their tired eyes.

The families were selected by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic social justice group, after being identified as particularly vulnerable. Francis said on Saturday that the selection was not based on religion and those chosen had the necessary paperwork to leave Lesbos.

The 12 are among the more than 150,000 migrants and refugees who have arrived in Greece so far this year, half of which are from Syria.

Osama described a “terrible” journey to Europe from the family’s home in Damascus, the Syrian capital, ending when they were saved by the coast guard off the coast of Greece.

His story mirrors that of Ramy, 51, a teacher from Deir ez-Zor whose family was also saved while on board a boat from Turkey.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Rosie Scammell

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