Francis bringing 12 refugees on papal plane from Lesbos to Vatican

Pope Francis greets refugees who are traveling to Rome with him at the international airport in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, Greece, April 16, 2016. The pope brought 12 refugees to Italy on his plane. (CNS/Paul Haring)

LESBOS, GREECE — In what appears to be an unprecedented political and humanitarian gesture, Pope Francis is bringing twelve refugees from Syrian back to the Vatican after a visit here Saturday.

The refugees were seen boarding the papal flight at the end of the pope's five hour to the Greek island, which has become a waypoint for hundreds of thousands of refugees escaping violence across the Middle East.

The Vatican said in a statement that the pontiff wanted to "make a gesture of welcome." The twelve refugees are said to comprise three families, all of whom are Muslim and from Syria.

The Vatican said the initiative was carried forward after discussions with Greek and Italian authorities and that the city-state "will take responsibility for bringing in and maintaining the three families."

This breaking news story is being updated.

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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