Pope Instructs Vatican to House Two Refugee Families

(photo: Screenshot)

Several weeks after calls on the Vatican to lead by example and give shelter to refugees, Pope Francis said Sunday that two Vatican parishes would be welcoming two families fleeing hunger and war.

The Pope told pilgrims at yesterday’s Angelus that the Vatican would be welcoming the two families “in the coming days” and he called on “every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every shrine of Europe [to] welcome one family, beginning with my Diocese of Rome.”

The move would be a “concrete gesture” ahead of the Holy Year of Mercy beginning in December, the Holy Father said.

The Pope’s appeal comes as Europe’s refugee crisis steadily worsens and European leaders continue to debate on how best to deal with the influx.

Large numbers of refugees have been fleeing mainly from Syria and the conflict taking place there between Islamist and ISIS militants and government forces. Germany agreed to admit 15,000 migrants and refugees after they had been held up in Hungary for days.

The number of those applying for asylum in Europe has grown exponentially in the past couple of years. In July alone, more than 100,000, mostly from Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan tried to seek asylum in Europe.

“God’s mercy is seen through our works, as shown us by the life of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whose anniversary of death we marked yesterday,” the Pope said.

“Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who flee death from war and hunger, and who have begun a journey moved by vital hope, the Gospel calls us to be "neighbors" of the weakest and the abandoned. To give them concrete hope. It’s not enough to say, "Take heart. Be patient." Christian hope has a fighting spirit, with the tenacity of one who goes toward a sure goal.”

He added that before the upcoming Jubilee of Mercy, he wished to appeal to parishes, religious communities, monasteries and shrines of all Europe, “that they give expression to an application of the Gospel and welcome a family of refugees. A concrete gesture in preparation for the Holy Year of Mercy.”

Earlier this year, Matteo Salvini, a member of the right wing Northern League party, challenged Pope Francis’ words on immigration after the Pope said that to turn away asylum seekers is tantamount to “an act of war”. Noting that another 800 immigrants had just landed in Italy, Salvini asked if they would be taken to “Brussels or the Vatican.”

Others have noted that since the time of the papal states, no one can enter Vatican City without proper authorization. Only the Pope and his relatives, as well as cardinals, patriarchs, bishops and members of the diplomatic corps, can enter without a special document, according to Article 12.1 on “rules, citizenship and access to Vatican City.” People can also be banned from entering if there is “a just cause.” Who is allowed to enter is up to the Governatorate and the Pope himself who can always waive the rules.

During World War Two, Pope Pius XII allowed between 4,000 and 7,000 Jews to be accommodated in 180 known places of refuge in Vatican City, churches and basilicas, Church administrative buildings, and parish houses.

Around 3,000 Jews were sheltered in Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence. Pius also took personal responsibility for the care of the children of Jews deported from Italy.

Francis said Sunday that he addressed his "brothers of Europe as true pastors, so that in their dioceses they back my appeal, remembering that Mercy is the second name of Love: ‘What you have done for the least of my brothers, that you have done for me.’”