‘It felt like a wedding,’ says a refugee Francis brought to Rome from Lesbos in 2016.

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‘It felt like a wedding,’ says a refugee Francis brought to Rome from Lesbos in 2016.

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By: Elisabetta Povoledo | nytimes.com | 5 December 2021|

‘It felt like a wedding,’ says a refugee Francis brought to Rome from Lesbos in 2016.

After Pope Francis visited the Greek island of Lesbos in April 2016, he took 12 Muslim refugees from Syria, including six children, with him back to Rome aboard the papal plane. It was an act that punctuated his pleas for sympathy toward refugees just as European attitudes were hardening against them.

Five years later, the three families who traveled with Francis — two from Damascus and one from Deir al-Zour — have made lives for themselves in Rome, though they say that their thoughts are constantly with those they left behind in Syria.

“When we got on that plane with him, we felt a sense of peace that we hadn’t felt for a very long time,” said Wafaa Eid, 35, recalling a “dreamlike” trip that swept them from years of war in Syria and a fraught five-month journey to reach Europe, to a rousing welcome offered by a Catholic charity in Rome.

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