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The Vatican will house two refugee families

imagesPope Francis called on Sunday for Europe’s Catholics to house refugees.

 

ROME— Pope Francis lent his moral authority to efforts to stem a humanitarian crisis in Europe, calling on every Catholic parish there to take in one of the thousands of families coming to the region to flee conflict and poverty.

“May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe host a family,” the pope told a crowd in St. Peter’s Square after reciting the traditional noon Angelus prayer.

There are approximately 120,000 parishes in Europe, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. The pope added that the Vatican itself would receive two families in the next few days.

The pope has made migration one of the major social causes of his pontificate. Only a few months after his election in 2013, he visited the southern Mediterranean island of Lampedusa, a major entry point for undocumented migrants to Europe, where he denounced rich nations’ indifference to the thousands who had died trying to cross the sea from North Africa.

His latest appeal to Catholics to set an example of Christian mercy came as Germany and Austria received, via Hungary, one of the largest waves of displaced people since World War II: thousands of migrants, many of them fleeing Syria and other war-torn countries.

Some 13,000 migrants had crossed Hungary’s border with Austria by Sunday afternoon. Most of them were already in Germany, which was working to distribute them across the country.

Leaders of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition were scheduled to meet Sunday night to draft plans and secure funding for the effort. The country appears to remain the destination of choice for many migrants, in particular Syrians, after it already took in thousands of new arrivals last week.

“In the face of the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing death in war or hunger, and who are on the road to hope of life, the Gospel calls us, asks us to be near, the littlest and the abandoned,” the pope said.

Pope Francis said taking in such families would be a “concrete gesture in preparation for the Holy Year of Mercy,” which begins Dec. 8.

The Catholic Church observes so-called jubilee years for pardons and the remission of sins every 25 years and on other occasions designated by the pope, a tradition inspired by the Bible.

Earlier in the week, the pope announced other gestures for the coming year of mercy, including a temporary concession that will make it easier for priests to lift the excommunications of women who ask forgiveness for having had abortions.