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Pope Francis Opens Vatican to Refugee Families


People on sailing and fishing boats with a banner reading "Thank you Pope Francis", wave as the pontiff leaves on a boat (not pictured) to cast a wreath into the sea in memory of migrants who have drowned trying to reach Europe on the Italian island of Lampedusa. In a visit stripped of the usual pomp of papal travel, Francis will cast a wreath into the sea and hold a mass of mourning with a simple cross made from the wood of rickety fishing boats that migrants arrive on. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO

John Burger - published on 09/06/15

Calls on parishes to do same

Pope Francis announced Sunday that he will give temporary housing in the Vatican to at least two refugee families and asked that every European parish, monastery, and shrine do the same, Crux reported.

The Pope’s move comes just a day after the Finnish prime minister said he would offer his own home to refugees. “We should all take a look in the mirror and ask how we can help,” Prime Minister Juha Sipila told national broadcaster YLE.

Sipila, a Lutheran, said an EU plan to distribute 120,000 refugees arriving in Greece, Italy and Hungary to countries around the European Union should be voluntary and hoped Finland could show an example, according to Reuters.

Within the walls of Vatican city-state there are two parish churches that will welcome at least one refugee family each, St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Anne’s, Pope Francis said.

“Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war, death, and hunger, who are on their way toward life’s hope, the Gospel calls us to be near to the smallest and abandoned,” the Pope told pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly Angelus prayer.

Francis’ announcement comes in the wake of at least two events this week that drove home the depth of the crisis for many people around the world: the death of 71 people who apparently suffocated inside a truck in which they were being smuggled into Western Europe, and the body of a three-year-old Syrian boy washing up on a beach in Turkey after his family’s dinghy capsized.

Since a photo of the dead toddler went viral on social media, thousands of Europeans have reportedly offered to open their homes to refugees. Earlier in the week, more than 11,000 Icelanders opened their homes after Reykjavik announced it had places for just 50 refugees.

Francis said that the world is called to give the refugees real hope, and that simply inviting them to courage and patience is not enough. But his announcement Sunday did not come out of the blue. He has long advocated for migrants and refugees.

The first trip he made was to Lampedusa, an Italian island that is an arrival point for many people taking the journey across the Mediterranean, running from war, hunger, and religious persecution in Africa and the Middle East.

Last June, during a weekly audience, Francis called for the international community to do more, praised those who help refugees, and criticized those who fail to do so: “I invite everyone to ask forgiveness for those persons and institutions that close the doors on these people who are searching for family, that are searching for safety.”

Crux said the Pope’s appeal means that more than 300 refugee families could find shelter in Rome, given the number of churches in the city. Further afield, France has an estimated 16,000 parishes up and down the country, Italy has 26,000, Germany has 11,000, and Spain has 22,859.

The families that will be relocated in the Vatican haven’t been chosen yet. According to a Vatican spokesman, the officials who administer the two churches will begin working on the plan Monday. The spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, also said that Francis’ appeal isn’t directed to only priests or nuns, but to the whole parish community, so it will be everyone’s responsibility to welcome the refugees. European bishops will discuss soon the pope’s urging every parish to take in refugees, an Italian cardinal said. “The European and Italian church is ready to mobilize to receive” refugees, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco told Vatican Radio. The cardinal is a longtime leader of the Italian bishops’ conference and is an official of the European bishops conference. “Yes, surely there will be a prompt response,” Bagnasco said. “We will talk about it next week, when the heads of European bishops conferences meet in Jerusalem” for an annual gathering, the cardinal said.

The move may also give moral backing to a growing number of voices urging the United States to do more. Some observers speculate about a possible announcement on the part of the US government to accept more Syrian refugees, to coincide with the Pope’s visit to Washington, New York and Philadelphia beginning Sept. 22.

Pope FrancisRefugeesSyria

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