Pope heads to Lesbos to show 'solidarity' with Greeks, migrants

Vatican City - Pope Francis called on Catholics worldwide Wednesday to pray for his upcoming trip to the Greek island of Lesbos, on the frontline of Europe's migrant crisis, saying he wanted to show "solidarity" with the refugees and the Greek people.

"On Saturday I will go to the island of Lesbos, where a huge number of refugees have arrived in the past months," the pontiff said in a message during his general audience in Saint Peter's Square.

The intention, he said, is "to show closeness and solidarity with the refugees as well as the citizens of Lesbos and to all the Greek people who have been so generous in their welcome.

"I ask you to accompany me on this trip in prayer," Francis told the crowd of 22,000 in the square.

The pope has repeatedly spoken out about the refugee crisis that has overwhelmed and divided Europe, urging Europeans to welcome and not reject people who are fleeing war and poverty

His visit comes as European countries debate how to handle the massive influx of refugees to the continent, with the Balkan nations shutting their borders to block the migrants' route to northern Europe, and the European Union struggling to implement a new migrant plan with Turkey.

Francis, accompanied by the Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and the archbishop of Athens, will visit the Aegean Sea island for a few hours to draw the international community's attention to the suffering of asylum seekers, many of them on the run from a devastating war in Syria.

At the start of his pontificate in 2013, he visited the Italian island of Lampedusa, where large numbers of migrants were arriving from conflict-hit Libya.