Love and loathing greet pope's appeal for parishes to host refugees

Thu Sep 10, 2015 3:15pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - At a recent meeting of Catholic parishioners in the small town of Castelgomberto in northern Italy, a man got up and shouted "My grandfather built that place for priests, not for Muslims".

"It was a pretty stormy meeting," said Father Lucio Mozzo, pastor to six parishes in the area, who was trying to convince residents to allow a family of refugees to move into a disused vicarage in a nearby valley.

In an unprecedented gesture last Sunday, Pope Francis appealed to every Catholic parish, religious community and sanctuary in Europe to take in a family of refugees, saying he would set the example by hosting two families in parishes inside the Vatican..

The Roman Catholic Church's capacity to help refugees in parishes from Sicily to Sweden is huge, but the success of the appeal will depend on how many parishes take action.

There are about 120,000 parishes in Europe, with the largest number - about 27,000 - in Italy. France and Spain have about 20,000 each. Iceland has among the fewest, with six.

The response has so far been mixed.

Official statements from bishops conferences have oozed with optimism. Grass-roots groups have preached a let's-roll-up-the-sleeves attitude, with a number of initiatives already taking shape.

But confrontations in Castelgomberto and elsewhere in Europe have illustrated the difficulties priests may face at the local level as suspicion and xenophobia have reared their heads.   Continued...

Pope Francis blesses a boy during his Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican, September 9, 2015. REUTERS/Max Rossi