Pope Francis has criticised Europe’s lack of co-ordination on migration and hit out at a continent “torn by nationalist egoism".
The head of the Catholic Church compared the plight of refugees and migrants making the dangerous journey to and through Europe to a “horrendous modern Odyssey".
Homer’s famed epic poem told the story of Greek hero Odysseus and his perilous 10-year journey home from the Trojan War.
Pope Francis, who is a long-time supporter of refugee rights, was speaking in Greece and will return on Sunday to Lesbos, the Greek island where thousands of migrants have lived in often horrendous conditions in recent years and a flashpoint of the 2015 refugee crisis.
The Pope, speaking shortly after arriving in Athens, said the European community “continues to temporise” and “appears at times blocked and unco-ordinated” instead of being an “engine of solidarity” on migration.
Greece has been one of the main entry points into the EU for migrants and refugees seeking asylum from the Middle East and elsewhere.
“In the past, ideological conflicts prevented the building of bridges between Eastern and Western Europe; today the issue of migration has led to breaches between South and North as well.
“I would like to encourage once again a global, communitarian vision with regard to the issue of migration, and to urge that attention be paid to those in greatest need, so that, in proportion to each country’s means, they will be welcomed, protected, promoted and integrated, in full respect for their human rights and dignity,” Pope Francis said.
He urged for “peaceful coexistence with all those who increasingly are forced to flee in search of a new home and new hope.
“They are the protagonists of a horrendous modern Odyssey.”
Speaking to political and cultural leaders in Greece he that multilateralism can address the major issues of the day, from protecting the environment to the Covid-19 pandemic and poverty.
“Politics needs this in order to put common needs ahead of private interests,” he said.
“Yet we cannot avoid noting with concern how today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy.”
Pope Francis arrived in Greece from Cyprus, where he condemned the “slavery” and “torture” in migrant camps.
His visit to Athens is the first papal trip to the Greek capital since John Paul II in 2001. That had been the first visit by a Pope to Athens since the 1054 Schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.
Greece’s Catholic community is small, comprising only 1.2 per cent of the majority-Orthodox population.
Up to 2,000 police are stationed in Athens to monitor possible disruptions by Orthodox hardliners.
Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou said co-operation with the Vatican was important and praised the role of religion in times of trouble.
“In difficult times with great trials for humanity such as the refugee and migration crisis, poverty, climate change, and the pandemic, the contribution of religion and the church has not only existential significance and is not limited to its flock,” she said.
“It is directly related to a policy of care and humanism, and it opens the way for peaceful coexistence and prosperity for all of us.”