To the crowds gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the Pope said the faithful are called to offer a concrete gesture of hope as indicated in the Gospel: “Before the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing death in conflict and hunger and are on a journey of hope, the Gospel – he said – calls us to be close to the smallest and to those who have been abandoned”.
Reminding the faithful of the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Pope said that offering shelter to the needy is a “concrete act of preparation” for the Holy Year. And turning specifically to his European brother bishops, the Pope asked them to support his appeal and said that in the coming days two Vatican parishes will each be taking in a family of refugees.
In a brief declaration on Sunday afternoon following the Pope’s request to all parishes, religious communities, monasteries and sanctuaries to offer shelter to forced migrants and refugees currently in search of refuge, Father Federico Lombardi SJ, Director of the Vatican Press Office, said the Pope really intends his appeal to reach the “whole of Europe” and not just a few isolated realities.
Father Lombardi points out that Pope Francis is urging catholic communities to take the lead in welcoming our refugee and migrant brothers and sisters in a moment in which the gravity of their situation represents the most urgent question currently to be tackled on the continent.
He highlights how the Pope’s appeal for solidarity and welcome calls for a creative and generous response as we prepare for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, a preparation that must come to life through concrete works of charity; “he is not – Father Lombardi says – referring to organizational or logistic preparations”.
Father Lombardi says that when the Pope speaks to parishes, he is directing his call to entire parish communities which are embedded in local realities, and not only to parish priests and their houses. Parish communities, he says, will be able to find the best ways to bring this welcome to life.
And when he speaks to “religious communities” Father Lombardi notes that the Pope is using the same strong words he used when visiting the “Centro Astalli” – the Jesuit run refugee Center in Rome – when he spoke of “empty convents”.
These were the Pope’s words in that occasion: “The Lord calls us to live with greater courage and generosity hospitality in communities, in houses and in empty convents. Dear men and women religious, your empty convents are not useful to the Church if they are turned into hotels and earn money. The empty convents do not belong to you, they are for the flesh of Christ which is what refugees are. The Lord calls us to live with greater courage and generosity, and to accept them in communities, houses and empty convents. This of course is not something simple; it requires a criterion and responsibility, but also courage. We do a great deal, but perhaps we are called to do more, firmly accepting and sharing with those whom Providence has given us to serve”. (10 September 2013)
Finally, Father Lombardi explains that the “two parishes” the Pope refers to inside the Vatican are the Parish of Santa Anna and St. Peter’s Basilica. He says they are extremely different realities and each of them will find its own way to respond to the Pope’s call.