"Every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, take in one family" said Pope Francis a year ago in September 2015 appealing to Church communities to take in one family of immigrants. To celebrate the first anniversary of this call to action, Universe of Faith took comments from a diocese in the UK and in Malta.
From the UK
David Cameron had promised in late 2015 to take in up to 20,000 Syrian refugees, but Green MP Caroline Lucas said this is a small response.
A tangible demonstration of help towards refugees comes from Birmingham. Fr Michael White from diocese told us that "the Archdiocese provided a nine bedroom house, formerly a presbytery, that has become a house for female destitute asylum seekers. This was adapted to make it fit for purpose and it opened in August 2016. It currently hosts four women and will be increasing to nine in the coming weeks. It is being run by the Lay Columbian Missionaries in partnership with the Diocese and Father Hudson’s Care.
The diocese also helps in existing projects which offer support, friendship and practical help with asylum applications, learning English, offering food and clothing, attracting more volunteers and getting them some extra funding. We also supported other non-Church projects in our Diocese, encouraging people to become involved and having a collection that we distributed among these projects. We realise it is not exactly what Pope Francis requested but we continue to look for more ways to help."
Other parishes in the dioceses of Salford, Portsmith, and Middlesbrough are also offering various forms of support.
The island of Malta has in the last years received a number of refugees and immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. After the Pope's appeal the Church in Malta together with the Emigrants Commission launched a project entitled "Welcoming the Foreigner".
12 out of 63 parishes in Malta are currently hosting one or more families to support migrants coming from several places in the Middle East, North and Eastern Africa including single mothers with infants, families and young couples. The diocese of Gozo, a smaller island in the Maltese archipelago is also hosting a family and is waiting for another one to arrive. The parishes in Gozo donate money for the upkeep of this house and family.
The Maltese Jesuits have made space in one of their own homes where they live in the village of Naxxar. They welcomed an Eritrean family with three children aged 1, 8 and 12. Michael*, their father shared with us some of the joys and struggles of his family...
"I work as a cleaner. We have made some friends in the town. People are warm and very kind. At times they give money to the children, because they would like to help us, saying ‘miskin’, ‘miskina’ (poor ones). Some are very generous and invite us to their home and also help the children and my wife to learn English and Maltese. They are doing great progress. People are very generous and kind with us. My wife still finds it difficult here. She is often stressed out and sick. She misses her family. Am trying to get help her put up with all these difficulties. But I have not succeeded enough up to now."
When asked if he has plans for the future, Michael said, "We cannot remain with the Jesuits all the time. We have to be able to afford to rent our own home. This is the biggest problem. How can I pay rent for a house of my own, when my salary is so poor and my wife does not work? It is not easy to feed and take care of a family with three children. Our youngest still has no ID card, so we receive no children allowances."
We asked Michael what made him leave his country, " The government wants to stop Oromo people from being free and have the same rights as the Amharic and other tribes. They took the land from the people and just drove away the farmers from their land. I supported the Oromo opposition party. So they put me in prison and tortured me, burning me with cigarettes, stuffing my mouth with cloths to stifle my cry and making me sleep on the ground naked in very cold conditions. This happened many times. I still suffer the consequences of this torture. My face is marked by cigarette burns and I still have pains the length of my side and arms.
I was sent to prison several times. Once it was for one year and the last time I was in prison for 9 months. The second time I managed to escape. My children were not allowed to attend school when I was away, as a punishment for my escape and to force me to come back."
Most of the adults hosted by these Maltese parishes have managed to find employment within a few months and some good stability for their children. Emmanuel Ciappara, spokesperson for the Emigrants Commission said that "A few of the residents hosted in parishes have even started to move out to fend for themselves and make way for other migrants. The aim of the Church is to continue strengthening this project launched during this Year of Mercy. Parishes involved in this project include: Attard, Birkirkara - St. Joseph the Worker, Iklin, Mellieha, Mosta, Marsascala, Qormi - St. Sebastian, Rabat-St. Paul, Sliema - Stella Maris and Jesus of Nazareth, Balluta and Żabbar."
Europe currently only hosts 6% of the world's refugee population, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. During his papacy Pope Francis has spoken numerous times for more accepting and welcoming attitude towards immigrants and refugees in the continent. In the United States, President Obama at a United Nations summit on the refugee crisis this week, announced that the US would accept 110,000 refugees in 2017. In 2016, the U.S. accepted 10,000 Syrian refugees and 40,000 from around the world.
* Michael is not the real name to protect the identity of the family.
24th September 2016