Francis to refugees: 'The church is with you'

This article appears in the Francis in Turkey feature series. View the full series.

Istanbul — Pope Francis met with a group of some 50 young refugees from conflicts throughout the Middle East Sunday evening here, before ending his three-day trip to Turkey and heading back to Rome.

Telling the young people -- who had fled violence in places such as Syria, Iraq, and other parts of Turkey -- not to be discouraged, the pontiff promised that he and the Catholic church are with them in their struggles.

"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," Francis told the group, which was organized by the Salesian Oratory in Istanbul.

"For my part, together with the whole church, I will continue to pray to the Lord, asking him to inspire those in leadership, so that they will not hesitate to promote justice, security and peace and do so in ways that are clear and effective," said the pope.

"Through her social and charitable organizations, the church will remain at your side and will continue to hold up your cause before the world," he said.

Francis' meeting with the refugees had been the subject of keen speculation in recent days, as there were reports that the pope wanted to visit one of the many camps of refugees in Turkey.

Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Christian or other minorities, have fled violence in the Middle East for Turkey, especially due to the militant group Islamic State.

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

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