(Brussels) September 8, 2015 — Catholics across Europe are answering Pope Francis's call to show hospitality to refugees. Since the Pope's statement earlier this week, Jesuit Refugee Service has heard from thousands of people eager to host refugees in their homes, provide clothing or offer other help to those in need.
On Sunday, September 6, Pope Francis said, "may every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe take in one family." He added that the two parishes in the Vatican itself would each welcome a refugee family. Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who are fleeing death by war and by hunger... the Gospel calls us to be neighbors to the smallest and most abandoned," said the Pope, who asks that welcoming refugee families be part of the build-up to the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy, which will begin this December.
Europe's Catholics were already reaching out to offer help. "Our cell phone doesn't stop ringing. We've gotten 700 emails in five days," says Inês Braizinha, head of communications for JRS Portugal.
JRS France is receiving hundreds of calls each day from people willing to host refugees in their homes through its Welcome en France program, which matches families with asylum seekers who need temporary housing.
JRS International and JRS/USA have received an outpouring of donations and emails offering aid. "We are touched by the generosity of the people writing to us," says Peter Balleis S.J., Rome-based international director of JRS.
Michael Zammit S.J., Regional Director for JRS in the Middle East, was visiting Austria when many refugees arrived in early September. "I was there at noon when a train from the frontier pulled in full of refugees. There were a lot ordinary people who were there to welcome the arrivals," says Zammit. "I saw one Austrian family with two young girls going around distributing chocolates. Another young boy with his father was coming from McDonald's with a tray full of coffee."
John Dardis S.J., head of the Jesuits in Europe, called on JRS and the Jesuit network to fulfil the Pope's message of hospitality. "We have all seen the terrible images about refugees dying as they try to reach safety in Europe," says Dardis. Comparing the current refugee crisis to that of the Second World War, Dardis says that "our values of solidarity and hospitality are needed now more than ever."
Activities to help Central Europe's new arrivals are well underway. "The Jesuits here are doing a wonderful job," continues Zammit of the Austria response. "All the communities are receiving at least one refugee family. One night at 11 pm, the director of the Cardinal Koenig house received a phone call from Caritas to see how many refugees he could receive. He said he could receive about a hundred people in several big halls in the house."
JRS already serves tens of thousands of refugees in Europe. Sample programs include:
• In Italy, JRS helps more than 30,000 refugees each year, cooking hot meals daily, offering medical and legal aid, helping children with school supplies, providing language classes, and more.
• In Malta, an island in the Mediterranean Sea where many refugees land, JRS helps refugees who are in detention or living in the community.
• In Romania, JRS provides legal aid, housing, language classes and more to refugees including Syrians.
• In Macedonia, JRS has a safe house for refugee families.
• In Germany, for those threatened with deportation, JRS offers specialized legal aid.
• In Portugal, JRS offers training to resettled refugees in skills like care for the elderly so they can get jobs. JRS Portugal is a member of a movement providing answers about legal issues and other support, so that local groups who offer to help refugees can effectively welcome them.
JRS Europe is ramping up its operations as offers of help pour in, working with European offices and partner on housing, legal advocacy and more.
"Let us hope that this momentum will keep," says Balleis. "Goodness will prevail."