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By Alastair Jamieson and Claudio Lavanga

Pope Francis had lunch Thursday with 21 Syrian refugees who were brought to Italy earlier this year from a migrant hotspot in Greece.

The Vatican said that the pontiff brought toys and other gifts for children in the group, who in turn gave him a selection of their drawings at the event in the Casa Santa Marta, next to St Peter's Basilica.

“Both adults and children had an opportunity to speak with Pope Francis about the beginning of their lives in Italy,” spokesman Greg Burke said in a statement.

The 21 were brought to Rome from the Greek island of Lesbos where thousands of migrants. The first families traveled back on the pope’s official plane after he visited the island April 16 and the others arrived in Rome mid-June.

Pope Francis said the gesture was in keeping with the message of humanity that he wanted to send.