Pope Francis’ personal almsgiver has returned to Rome from the Greek island of Lesbos with 33 asylum-seekers, offering several displaced families the chance to build new lives in Italy.
Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, following direct orders from the pontiff, arrived in Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport on Wednesday with migrants from Afghanistan, Cameroon and Togo.
Catholic volunteers welcomed the newcomers to Italy, many of whom are children, with flowers, balloons and exclamations of “Benvenuti.”
Another 10 refugees are scheduled to arrive in Italy later this month, Vatican News reports.
The refugees had previously been living at Greece’s largest refugee camp, Camp Moria, which is notorious for its inhumane and unsanitary conditions. The camp has a capacity of about 3,000, but following a recent uptick in arrivals, over 9,600 people were living there in September, according to Deutsche Welle.
Many residents live in tents, surrounded by rubbish and with little access to medical help. Fights are common among the camp’s various ethnic groups. Humanitarian workers say children as young as 10 have attempted suicide at the camp, the BBC reports.
As the papal almoner, Krajewski is tasked with carrying out charitable works in Francis’ name. The pope tapped Krajewski for the job back in 2013, telling him to “go out and look for the poor.”
Pope Francis sent the Polish cardinal to Lesbos in May. According to the Vatican, the pope wanted to make a “gesture of solidarity” to Greece and to the refugees by taking in some families.
The Vatican worked with the Italian and Greek governments to process the refugees’ paperwork. Their resettlement will be financed by the Holy See and by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic charity, Vatican News reports.
Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, the archbishop of Luxembourg, joined Krajewski during his May trip to Lesbos. Two refugee families, one from Kuwait and one from Syria, were resettled in Luxembourg in November, according to the Vatican News.
This isn’t the first time Francis has personally directed the resettlement of refugees. In 2016, he visited the Moria camp and brought three families of Syrian refugees back with him to the Vatican. With help from Community of Sant’Egidio, the children were enrolled in Italian schools, while their parents took graduate courses or started working.
Several of the refugees from the original group were on hand Wednesday to welcome the new arrivals, according to the Community of Sant’Egidio.
Francis has been a staunch advocate for refugees since the beginning of his papacy. He’s called on the nations of the world to take in as many refugees as possible. He’s also urged every Catholic parish, monastery and shrine in Europe to take in a family of refugees.
Krajewski echoed that call on Wednesday, urging Catholic convents and monasteries to house at least one family from the Lesbos refugee camps, to be able to empty them all.