Pope Francis is calling on every parish and religious community in Europe to shelter at least one refugee family but Europe’s bishops are divided on how to deal with the crisis. As 19,000 migrants, chiefly from Syria and Iraq, crossed the Austro-Hungarian border the Pope issued his appeal at the Sunday Angelus and said that the Vatican’s two parishes would be welcoming migrants in the coming days.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna said Europe’s bishops should speak with one voice on the issue and the EU should find a common stance. But as they prepared for a 11-16 September meeting of the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) in the Holy Land, it was clear that they are far from united.
Many east European bishops only want to take in Christians on a voluntary basis while their counterparts in western Europe, especially in the German-speaking countries, want to accommodate refugees and share the burden among the EU’s 28 states.
Austria: Cardinal Schönborn welcomed migrants personally as they crossed the border on foot at Nickelsdorf on 5 September. The cardinal thanked the hundreds of volunteers who were helping refugees and said he was proud of Austria. Catholic private schools in Vienna have said they will take in migrant children.
Germany: Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and the Chairman of the Protestant Churches in Germany, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, were at the main railway station in Munich to welcome the first wave of refugees arriving by train from Vienna. “Everything must be done so that no one dies of thirst, drowns in the Mediterranean or suffocates in trucks,” Cardinal Marx said. Building fences to keep migrants out was “unacceptable”.
France: The French bishops’ conference is urging “all Catholics and people of good will to offer support and open their hearts to their (refugee) brothers so their wandering towards a better life does not lead them to their death”. Cardinal André Vingt-Trois criticised those politicians “raising the spectre of an invasion”.
Belgium: Even before Francis’ appeal, the Belgian bishops asked owners of empty flats to open them to refugees for six months, with a modest rent to be paid by Caritas International Belgium.
Poland: While members of the former anti-communist Solidarity, including former president Lech Walesa, support Pope Francis’ call, more than a quarter of Poles are against providing homes for refugees, according to recent surveys. The Church is also split, with the head of the Polish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, saying that every parish has prepared a place for refugees and the Bishop of Warsaw, Henryk Hoser, warning that “Christians would be forced to become the minority as they are already in the Middle East”.
Czech Republic: The Prague Archbishop, Cardinal Dominik Duka, said the Church offered help to the Czech Government with the accepting of migrants whose life is threatened. But he pointed out the need to distinguish economic migrants from refugees fleeing from war, hunger and instability. He also said the right to life and security of Czech citizens must come first.
Hungary: Hungary’s Catholic primate, Cardinal Peter Erdo, has blamed “misunderstandings” and “administrative problems” for the Church’s failure to offer immediately shelter to the thousands of migrants who recently converged on the country. He pledged they would now act but one bishop, László Kiss-Rigó of Szeged-Csanad in southern Hungary, referred to their arrival as an “invasion”. He said: “They come here with cries of ‘Allahu Akbar.’ They want to take over.”
by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt, Christopher Lamb, Tom Heneghan, Jonathan Luxmoore and Josef Pazderka