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Vatican parish welcomes first refugee family following Pope’s appeal

A family of four has been welcomed by the community of the Vatican’s St. Anne parish after Pope Francis’ made an appeal earlier this month for every church in Europe open their doors to refugees.

Papal Almoner Bishop Konrad Krajewski issued a Sept. 18 statement that the family – a father, mother and two children – have already been received.

Syrian Christians of Catholic Greek-Melkite rite, the family fled their war-torn city of Damascus, and arrived to the Vatican Sept. 6, the day that Pope Francis, during his Sunday Angelus, made his appeal for every parish, religious community, monastery and shrine in Europe to take in a family.

“Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing death on account of war and hunger, and who are traveling toward a hope for life, the Gospel calls us to be ‘neighbors’ to the smallest and abandoned, (and) to give them a concrete hope,” the Pope said that day.

“Therefore, in the imminence of the Year of Mercy, I make an appeal to the parishes, to religious communities, to monasteries, and sanctuaries of all Europe to express the concreteness of the Gospel, and to welcome a family of refugees.”
According to the papal almoner’s statement on Friday, the family will stay in an apartment inside the Vatican near St. Peter’s Basilica. All necessary procedures requesting international protection for the family were started immediately.

Since current legislation doesn’t allow asylum applicants to apply for paid work for the first six months after the request, the family will be assisted by the St. Anne parish community during that time.

The almoner stressed that no further information can be given about the family until Italy makes the decision as to whether the family’s status as refugees will be granted. It was also asked that the family’s privacy be respected during this time, particularly with regard to media attention and interviews.

Bishop Krajewski said he could provide no further information regarding the accommodation status of a second family for St. Peter’s parish in the Vatican at the present time.

However, in a in a Sept. 8 interview with Vatican journalist Aura Miguel of Portugal-based Radio Renascença (Renaissance), the Pope affirmed that families have already been found for both parishes – St. Anne’s and St. Peter’s – thanks to both Bishop Krajewski and Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Vicar General for the Vatican.

In the interview, published Sept. 14, Francis said he specifically asked for parishes and communities to take in a family rather than a person because “a family gives more safety,” and the risk of “infiltrations” is lower.

He clarified that when he asked for refugees to be welcomed, he’s not necessarily asking that they be welcomed into the parish or community house, but that the parish or community finds “a place, a corner of a school to make a ‘small apartment.”
“Or, in the worst case, rent a modest apartment for the family, but that they have a ceiling, to be welcomed, and that they are integrated into the community.”

The Vatican communique also underlined the fact that for many years Popes, via their Almoner, have offered assistance to refugees for the payment of taxes for the issue of stay permits through the Jesuit-run Centro Astalli.

It was also noted that the papal almoner, on behalf of the Pope, offers daily assistance to numerous individuals and families of refugees in addition to meeting various needs, including healthcare, at reception centers throughout Rome.

Also noted was the fact that a mobile clinic given to the Pope a few years ago, and which has so far been used only during events that the Pope participates in, has now been made available several times a week in order to help refugees in reception centers, irregular ones included, on the outskirts of Rome.

The volunteers at the clinic, all of whom are doctors, nurses and Swiss Guards, are employed by Vatican City State institutions, the University of Rome at Tor Vergata, and are also members of the Association of the “Medicina Solidale Onlus” Institute.

By Elise Harris


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