An estimated 27,000 migrants and refugees are being housed in Italy’s parishes, shrines, monasteries and other religious institutions according to L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
The reported figure is up from 23,000 in September, when Pope Francis asked that every parish in Europe shelter at least one refugee family.
The newspaper reported that on January 17, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, more than 6,000 migrants will be present in St. Peter’s Square for the pope’s Sunday Angelus address.
On Thursday, the Vatican Information Service reiterated that the two Vatican parishes, St. Anna and St. Peter, immediately took steps to respond to the pope’s Sept. 6 invitation. The St. Anna parish community in the Borgo area hosts a Syrian family made up of a couple with two children. And the parish of St. Peter’s Basilica, in a large apartment situated in the area of Via Gregorio VII, hosts an Eritrean family composed of a mother and five children, three of whom are already with her in the apartment. Her other two children are still in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, but the Sant’Egidio Community is working to reunite the family by the end of the month or within a few weeks. The youngest child, just a few months old, was born in Norway, where the family had arrived, and from where they were sent back to Italy in accordance with the Dublin Convention. The family shares the apartment with a young friend and her young son.
News of the Church’s openness comes as controversy continues over reports of sexual assaults allegedly carried out by men of Middle Eastern and North African origin against female New Year’s Eve revelers in Cologne, Germany.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising and president of the German Conference of Catholic Bishops, condemned the attacks in a Jan. 8 press release and called for more vigilance in the future, according to Catholic News Agency.
“[T]he excesses in Cologne and other large cities are deeply disturbing for our society and can in no way be tolerated,” the cardinal said. “We need accurate information and a clear response from the authorities.”
In December, Reuters surveyed Catholic institutions throughout Europe and how they were putting refugees up. One Catholic parish in Germany tore out its pews to make space for refugees, the news service reported, while Franciscan monks near Rome took a family into their hilltop convent.
Reuters said that in a year that has seen hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing to Europe from the Syrian civil war and other troubled spots around the Middle East and Africa, the response to Pope Francis’ appeal has been mixed.
Arms have opened wide in some places but indifference, bureaucracy, fear, and xenophobia have reared their heads elsewhere, particularly after the attack by Islamist militants who killed 130 people in Paris last month.
St. Benedikt’s parish in the northern port city of Bremen removed pews and confessionals and converted the church into a temporary refugee shelter.
“This is our duty. We can’t sing Christmas carols about opening doors to those in need and at the same time refuse to let anyone enter,” said one of its priests, Father Johannes Sczyrba.
A number of Catholic prelates, particularly in Eastern Europe, were less than eager and warned of the long-term effects that migrants, most of them Muslim, could have on local culture.
“We are not being xenophobic or inhospitable,” said Bishop Piotr Libera of Plock in central Poland. “We are being wise. If you let a stranger into your home, into a home that is just being built, a small home, a home that is frail, you may get yourself into a great deal of trouble.”
On Monday, Pope Francis called on European leaders not to turn their back on refugees and migrants despite the cultural and security challenges associated with their arrival, Religion News Service reported.