Francis calls on every parish across Europe to house refugee families

by Joshua J. McElwee

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Pope Francis has made an extraordinary appeal to every single Catholic parish and community across Europe, asking each to house at least one of the tens of thousands of refugee families risking death to migrate to the continent from the Middle East.

Making the appeal during his weekly Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square on Sunday, the pontiff said the Gospel does not allow Christians to sit back from helping those in need.

"In front of the tragedy of the tens of thousands of refugees escaping death by war or hunger, on the path towards the hope of life, the Gospel calls us, asks us to be 'neighbors' of the smallest and most abandoned," Francis told the crowds in the Square.

Christians, the pope said, must give the refugees "a concrete hope. Not only to say: 'Courage, patience!'" Christian hope, he said, "is combative, with the tenacity of someone going towards a sure goal."

"To this end, with the nearing of the Jubilee of Mercy, I address an appeal to the parishes, to the religious communities, to the monasteries and shrines of all of Europe to express the concreteness of the Gospel and welcome a family of refugees," said Francis, calling it "a concrete gesture in preparation of the Holy Year of Mercy."

The pontiff specified the scope of his request: "Every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every shrine of Europe house a family, starting from my diocese of Rome."

The pope said that even the two small parishes at the Vatican "will welcome in these days two families of refugees."

"I address myself to my brother bishops of Europe ... that in their dioceses they will support this appeal of mine, remembering that Mercy is the second name of Love," said the pontiff, quoting Matthew's Gospel: "'Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'"

Francis extraordinary appeal to Catholics across Europe comes after a week that saw worldwide attention drawn to the refugee crisis, with news of migrants struggling to cross the border from Hungary to Austria and global spread of the image of a boy who drowned while trying to make the journey.

The scale and continuing nature of the crisis has shocked nations across the continent, which have struggled in their response to the sheer numbers of people risking death on journeys in makeshift boats or even by foot from countries throughout the Middle East.

The U.N. refugee agency said Europe might need to accept some 200,000 refugees to stem the crisis.

The pope made his appeal Sunday after reflecting on the Gospel reading for the day, which sees Jesus heal a man who was deaf and had some sort of speech impediment.

Francis said that Jesus' action in the episode, where he first looks to Heaven before making the miracle, shows that God "is not closed in Gods-self, but is open and puts Gods-self in communication with humanity."

"In God's immense mercy, God surpasses the abyss of infinite difference between Him and us, and comes to meet us," said the pope. "To realize this communication with humankind, God is made man: it is not enough to speak to us through the law and the prophets, but God makes Gods-self present in the person of his Son, the Word made flesh."

"Jesus is the great 'bridge builder' that constructs in himself the great bridge of full communion with the Father," said the pontiff.

"This Gospel speaks also to us," said Francis. "Often we are withdrawn and closed in ourselves and we create many inaccessible and inhospitable islands."

"So much so that the most basic human relations at times are created from reality unable to make reciprocal openness: the closed couple, the closed family, the closed group, the closed parish, the closed homeland," he continued. "This is not from God! This is ours; this is our sin."

[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]

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