In light of the massive refugee crisis in Europe, Pope Francis announced Sunday that he will give temporary housing in the Vatican to at least two refugee families and asked that every European parish, monastery, and shrine do the same.
The pontiff said the two parish churches contained within the walls of the Vatican city-state, St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Anne’s, will welcome at least one refugee family each.
“Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war, death, and hunger, who are on their way toward life’s hope, the Gospel calls us to be near to the smallest and abandoned,” the pontiff said.
Francis’ announcement came in remarks to pilgrims and tourists gathered in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly Angelus prayer.
Thousands of migrants and refugees streamed into Germany and Austria over the weekend after being stuck in Hungary for days.
The International Organization for Migration estimates that more than 350,000 migrants arrived at the European Union’s borders between January and August this year. Some believe those estimates are low: According to Eurostat, 662,000 people applied for asylum in the EU in 2014.
That was almost 200,000 more than the year before, and double the number in 2011.
The numbers are growing exponentially from month to month. More than 100,000 people, mostly from Syria, Eritrea, and Afghanistan, arrived in precarious boats and rubber dinghies to European shores in July alone.
Francis’ appeal comes only days after a poignant photo of the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy fleeing the war with his family washed up on a beach in Turkey, caused an outcry around the world.
Observers of the migration crisis believe the picture could be a turning point; since its publication, thousands of Europeans have opened their homes to refugees until they can be resettled.
More than 10,000 people marched in France Saturday to demand that the government do more. More than 11,000 Icelanders opened their homes after the national government announced it had places for just 50 refugees. Similar initiatives are taking place across Europe.
Francis said that the world is called to give the refugees real hope, and that simply inviting them to courage and patience is not enough.