My hero, Pope Francis, came to Lesvos on my birthday. He was not visiting me personally, as you might guess, but his visit felt personal. He came because so many victims of war, oppression and persecution are not getting the benefit of global leadership that treats them according to Christian values. Or Jewish values. Or Muslim values. Or Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, Shinto, B’hai, Crips and Bloods values.
Dev and I decided to spend the day with the Pope and left Molyvos early, a perfect spring day. Feeling optimistic because we had the Pope’s itinerary, we first drove 40 miles to the detention camp at Moria. Or actually, we drove most of the way to Moria. A nice police officer stopped us at the turn off and, after a brief conversation, advised us to park our car illegally on what he referred to as “the national highway.” There is something wrong with that sentence but it’s not what you think. The road he referred to as “the national highway” is mostly a two lane road with pot holes and no center line. The thing you might think is wrong with his sentence only seems wrong if you are not Greek. The Greeks have two sayings you hear all the time. One, which I have previously reported, is “Please take this for free. I would hate for you to pay for it.” This saying has many variations. The other saying, which the police officer relied upon, is “There is no problem, especially in the case of parking.”
So we parked illegally on the national highway at the suggestion of the police officer and walked a mile to the camp. Here is what we saw before we were stopped again by the police:
A reporter was pretending on camera to be right in the middle of the excitement because, like us, he had the Pope’s itinerary but not the details of the Pope’s security protocols. He told us Pope Francis was having lunch inside the camp with some of the refugees and the Pope would eat the same modest meal the refugees always eat: rice with mushrooms, olives and halvah. When he told me this, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The people detained inside Moria do not get mushrooms, olives or halvah from their military caretakers except when the Pope is eating with them, which so far is once. They get rice, yes, and also moldy potatoes.
After hanging around outside Moria for an hour, we realized the police weren’t going to let us get close enough to see the Pope so we walked a mile back to the illegally parked car on the national highway. We made a stop at the “Chinese Store” (always open, has everything, ridiculously low prices) so Dev could buy a soccer ball. Then we drove to Mytilene where the Pope would lead a convocation in prayer and a group of volunteers would stage a peaceful demonstration to highlight the criminality of the “deal” between EU and Turkey. Here is what we saw in Mytilene:
After our interesting day with reporters and protestors and riot police, Dev decided to stay in Mytilene to hang out with Lifeguards Hellas. I drove to Molyvos and celebrated the rest of my birthday at a wild surprise party that was waiting for me when I arrived home. Just kidding but every day in Lesvos is like a birthday.
Thank you Pope Francis for coming to Lesvos where refugees, migrants, residents, volunteers and the animals feel a little less forgotten.
“Do not lose hope.”
Pope Francis, April 16, 2016, Lesvos, Greece