Catholic parishes ‘can help’ refugees

An appeal to Catholic parishes to take in refugees could see several thousand families from Syria and other conflict countries rehomed across the country.

The appeal, sparked by simultaneous calls from Pope Francis and the Bishop of Elphin, is to be discussed by the Irish Bishops Conference at the end of this month.

Pope Francis on Sunday called on all Catholic parishes and religious communities in Europe to take in one refugee family each and said the Vatican would lead by example by itself offering accommodation.

At the weekend, Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin began preparing a questionnaire for the priests of his diocese to circulate among parishioners to help identify vacant properties, granny flats, and other accommodation that could house refugees.

He said the initiative — which sets the bar higher at two families per parish — was prompted by people across Sligo and Roscommon who were keen to know how they might be able to help.

“This is something that requires a more immediate response than there has been to date. People in the diocese have been saying we have to do something,” he told RTÉ.

“If you think of a medium-sized village, if you had two refugee families, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that, with local support from other families and local businesses, a very decent provision could be made for them.”

Bishop Doran stressed the properties identified on the inventory he hoped to compile would have to be vetted and approved by official bodies co-ordinating the care of refugees. He said he hoped the idea would be replicated not only across all the other 1,360 parishes in the country but by other faith groups too.

Sophie Magennis, head of the Irish office of the UN High Commission for Refugees said such voluntary offers could be incorporated into an overall care plan for the refugees.

“Normally what would happen when there is planning for refugees is that there would be preparations at local level with involvement by the local authority, the local GP, school board, gardaí — all the major local institutions and also the religious institutions,” said Ms Magennis.

“This is somewhere where, if the church did wish to give some accommodation, they could be involved in that. That’s a way that you could potentially see some of this goodwill being translated into practice.”

The Dublin Archdiocese has also begun working on a practical response to the refugee crisis through its social care agency Crosscare. Director Conor Hickey said the organisation had started work on a draft programme of support for refugees last Thursday following a request from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin.

He said the plan would include proposals for how Crosscare’s staff, housing experts, interpreters and foodbank organisers could all make their services available to the refugees.

Senior bishops will meet next Monday to decide the agenda for the autumn meeting of the Irish Bishops Conference.

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