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Pope Francis Personally Flies 3 Syrian Muslim Refugee Families Out of Greece in Swipe at Europe


Pope Francis Personally Flies 3 Syrian Muslim Refugee Families Out of Greece in Swipe at Europe (Getty)

Pope Francis made a provocative gesture at Europe and its leaders on Saturday when he personally flew Muslim refugees back to Italy following an emotional visit to Greece.

The pontiff spent several hours on the island of Lesbos, where hundreds of thousands of Syrians and others from Middle East countries have landed while fleeing war, before three families personally boarded his chartered airplane.

All told, 12 refugees accompanied Pope Francis back to Italy as part of his "gesture of welcome. They will eventually receive asylum in Italy.

The homes of all three families were destroyed by shelling, according to Vatican Radio.

Watch: 17-Year-Old Syrian Refugee Carries Puppy 300 Miles to Safety

Six of the 12 refugees are children, according to the AP.

The pope was on the island not far from the Turkish coast along with leaders of the world's Orthodox Christians and the head of the Church of Greece and spoke out against an EU plan to send back any refugees who do not win asylum in Greece.

"We hope that the world will heed these scenes of tragic and indeed desperate need, and respond in a way worthy of our common humanity," he said. "May all our brothers and sisters on this continent, like the Good Samaritan, come to your aid in the spirit of fraternity, solidarity and respect for human dignity that has distinguished its long history."

Watch: Syrian Refugee Kids Have The Time Of Their Lives Playing In The Snow

The contingent of religious leaders lunched with several refugees and also participated in a wreath laying ceremony on the Mediterranean in memory of the thousands who've died while fleeing by sea.

The 12 refugees Francis flew to Italy will initially be supported by the Holy See and cared for by Italy's Catholic Sant'Egidio Community, the Vatican said.

Sant'Egidio is working with the Italian government to grant refugees humanitarian visas while their asylum applications are being processed.

Watch: Thousands Cheer For Pope Francis as He Addresses Immigration and Climate Change at the White House