VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis called on Sunday on every European church parish and religious community to take in one refugee family in a gesture of solidarity, which he said 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.
The pope’s call goes out to tens of thousands of Catholic parishes in Europe as the number of refugees and migrants arriving over land through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean to Italy and Greece hits record levels.
There are more than 25,000 parishes in Italy alone, and more than 12,000 in Germany, where many of the Syrians fleeing civil war and people trying to escape poverty and hardship in other countries say they want to end up.
The crowd 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 an apparent criticism of a wall Hungary is building at the EU’s border.
“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 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 436 migrants who made distress calls from their rubber boats on Saturday and Sunday.
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 Dec. 8.
Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Clelia Oziel