In a statement that could have far-reaching implications, Pope Francis called on all Catholic parishes and monasteries in Europe to each house one refugee family that has fled "death from war and hunger."
"Every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, take in one family," the pope said during his customary Sunday address, the news agency Agence France-Presse reported. He also said the Vatican will welcome two families of refugees.
There are about 122,000 Catholic parishes in Europe, according to a study conducted by Georgetown University and published in June. If each of them housed one refugee family consisting of three to four people, about 360,000 to 500,000 refugees could be accommodated in the coming months.
It is unclear, however, whether all parishes will accede to the pope's wish. In addition, housing refugees in parishes would have little bearing on the strict policies in countries such as France that have left desperate refugees — fleeing conflict and persecution — with limited options when they make their way to European shores.
Addressing thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, Francis provided few details about his call to accommodate refugees, many of whom are not Catholics. The pope called his idea a "concrete gesture" ahead of a "year of mercy" that starts in December.
The announcement, nevertheless, could relieve some of the countries that have taken in a large share of the refugees who have recently arrived in Europe, such as Germany or Sweden. If all of Germany's 12,000 parishes responded favorably to the pope's demand, they alone could house a total of more than 30,000 refugees, according to Reuters. However, Germany expects about 800,000 refugees to apply for asylum in the country by the end of the year.
The pope's push resembles other, smaller initiatives already popular in the country. Some Germans have invited refugees to stay in their homes for free as authorities confront increasing difficulties in their bid to provide adequate apartments and reception centers. Many refugees are still housed in tent camps, and it is unclear whether alternative housing can be provided before winter arrives, as WorldViews reported earlier.
Other Europeans have made similar efforts on a personal front to house refugees. On Saturday, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila said he would accommodate refugees at his home. "We should all take a look in the mirror and ask how we can help," Sipila was quoted as saying to the Finnish national broadcaster YLE by Reuters.