Refugee students meet with Pope Francis in Lisbon

After shaking hands with Pope Francis during his meeting at the Portuguese Catholic University, a student from war-torn Syria expresses his joy and sense of unity beyond all differences of creed.

By Stefanie Stahlhofen and Edoardo Giribaldi

“It was very fast, but it was beautiful.”

Ouwais Sadek was one of the 25 refugee students who met Pope Francis in Lisbon on Thursday, the second day of his Apostolic Journey to Portugal for World Youth Day.

Listen to the interviews with Ouwais Sadek and Isabel Maria de Oliveira Capeloa Gil

A special moment

Sadek hails from Syria, and prior to his meeting with the Pope, he expressed his concern for his country: “If there is a power to take Syria from the isolation we are living in, that would be beautiful.”

Following the encounter, the young student defined those few intense moments as “special", in an interview with Vatican News' Stefanie Stahlhofen.

“The university’s Rector was introducing us one by one, and he was smiling. It was so charming for us.”

Branches of one tree

Sadek is Muslim, but that didn’t prevent him from feeling Pope Francis’ closeness.

“Now I feel that we are more united. It doesn’t matter if we are different. There is a say that goes: "we are branches of one tree." This is why what I felt right now means a lot to me.”

Opportunity to aspire

The opportunity for Sadek and other students to find a new life after fleeing their country was made possible through the Pope Francis Fund, “established in 2017,” as recalled by Isabel Maria de Oliveira Capeloa Gil, Rector of the Catholic University of Portugal, “to support refugees and migrants.”

The Fund has provided assistance for 50 students so far, with 25 of them who had the possibility to thank the Pope “for the opportunity to be able to aspire, have a life, have a career after fleeing war, famine and inequality.”

The Rector told Vatican News that the students come from Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, and the majority of them are not Christians. “This is a safe space for all believers and non-believers,” she concluded. 

03 August 2023, 15:15