The encounter, with some 100 children from the Middle East and Africa, had been a personal request of Francis’.
It included both Christian and Muslim children.
“I share your sufferings,” the Pope told them. “Yours is the sad consequence of brutal conflicts and war, which are always evil and which never solve problems.”
The young people attend a Salesian-run school in central Istanbul and Francis met them in its Oratory.
After the children sang a song in Spanish and Arabic that they had learned for the event a young girl spoke in broken English of the hardships her family had undergone, their struggle to find enough food to survive and her difficulties getting to school.
Presents from the children, including flowers and pictures, were taken out and put in the boot of one of the cars of the Pope’s motorcade.
A spokesman said afterwards that Francis, tired at the end of his busy three day visit to Turkey, was visibly moved by the encounter.
The Pope used his address to the children to call on the international community to help them and other refugees, calling the degrading conditions they are expected to live in “intolerable”.
He thanked Catholic organisations that work with refugees, and also praised the Turkish government for taking in some 1.6 million people from neighbouring Iraq and Syria.
But he closed the address on a personal note, telling the children not to be discouraged.
“The Catholic Church is with you,” he said. “Remember always that God does not forget any of his children, and that those who are the smallest and who suffer the most are closest to the Father’s heart.”
He promised to pray for them, for those leaders in a position to help them, and assured them: “The Church will remain at your side and will continue to hold up your cause before the world.”
The encounter was the last appointment of his weekend-long trip to Turkey. Afterwards the Pope paid a last-minute visit to the Armenian Patriarch, who is in hospital, then headed to the airport.
Joseph T. Kassab, MSC, BS, GC
Founder and President
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