MYTILENE, Greece— Pope Francis says his decision to bring 12 Syrian refugees to Italy from Greece aboard his plane was a “purely humanitarian” gesture and not a political act.
Francis told reporters Saturday as they flew home from Greece — with the refugees sitting in the aircraft behind him — that the idea came to him only a week ago from a Vatican official. He said he accepted it “immediately” because it was in keeping with the message of humanity that he wanted to send with his trip to the Greek island of Lesbos, a hotspot in Europe’s migration crisis.
Francis said all 12 refugees had their documents in order and that the Vatican would take full responsibility for them. The Vatican earlier said they consisted of three families, with six children among them, whose homes had been bombed in Syria.
Pope Francis also says he briefly greeted U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and the two shook hands, and he described the encounter as a sign of good manners, “nothing more.”
The pope says it wasn’t evidence that he was getting mixed up in American politics.
Francis says Sanders — along with Sanders’ wife and another couple — were in the lobby of the Vatican hotel where the pope lives, when he left for the trip to Greece on Saturday morning.
The pope tells reporters traveling back to the Vatican with him that he decided to greet Sanders and the others because it was the polite thing to do.
Francis says, “When I came down, I greeted them, shook their hands and nothing more. It’s good manners.”
The pope then added with a laugh: “If someone thinks that greeting someone means getting mixed up in politics, they should see a psychiatrist.”