In contrast to many of the governments around Western Europe, and indeed the world, the church may well be willing to do its part in defending those who have been forced from their homes and into other countries.
Pope Francis has put out the call on Sunday for every European church parish and religious community to take in a refugee family as a gesture of solidarity. Rather than just dictating from the pulpit ,the pontiff has said this process would start in the tiny Vatican state where he lives.
“I appeal to the parishes, the religious communities, the monasteries and sanctuaries of all Europe to … take in one family of refugees,” he said after his Sunday address in the papal enclave.
This is no small request from the pope. This call goes out to tens of thousands of Catholic parishes across the breadth of Europe as the number of refugees and migrants arriving over land through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean to Italy and Greece is beginning to hit record levels.
There are more than 25,000 parishes in Italy alone, and roughly half that at 12,000 in Germany. Germany is more important as it is where many of the Syrians fleeing civil war and people trying to escape poverty and hardship in other countries say they wish to end up. This call may also help in regard to the German protests which are seeking to prevent an oversaturation of immigration into Germany.
The crowd, listening in rapt attention in St. Peter’s Square applauded as the pontiff said, “Every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, take in one family.”
In a separate message on Sunday, the pope, himself the grandson of Italian emigrants to Argentina, made, what many are believing to be, a criticism of a wall that Hungary is building at the EU’s border to those outside the Eurozone.
“It is violence to build walls and barriers to stop those who look for a place of peace. It is violence to push back those who flee inhuman conditions in the hope of a better future,” he said in a letter to a Church association meeting in Albania.
The Vatican’s two parishes will take in a family of refugees each in the coming days, said Francis, whose first trip after his election to head of the Catholic church in 2013 was to the Italian island of Lampedusa, halfway between Sicily and Tunisia, where many refugees and migrants arrive by boat.
The Italian coast guard said it had coordinated the rescue of close to 500 migrants who made distress calls from their rubber boats on Saturday and Sunday. Though to call them boats appears more than a little generous, these migrants came through floating on whatever they could to escape their own countries.
Francis said taking in migrant families was a “concrete gesture” to prepare for the ‘extraordinary’ Holy Year on the theme of mercy which is due to begin on December 8th.
If this pope wishes for the world’s largest parish, over 1 billion Catholics worldwide, to act more kindly to their neighbours across the sea, this is a good place to start. Asking for other Catholic families and parishes to help those who cannot, as yet, help themselves, seem to me to be one of the cornerstone principles of Catholicism and maybe this pope can instil that back in to parishes across Europe by asking them simply to love their neighbour.