VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday called on every Catholic parish in Europe to take in a refugee family, saying the Vatican's two parishes would lead by example.
Calling for a "concrete gesture" ahead of a Jubilee Year of Mercy starting in December, the pope urged "every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe (to) take in a family.
"Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of asylum-seekers fleeing death [as] victims of war and hunger who are hoping to start a new life, the gospel calls on us and asks us to be the neighbor of the smallest and the most abandoned, to give them concrete hope," he said, giving the Angelus blessing in Saint Peter's Square in Rome.
The crowd in St. Peter's Square applauded. The pope's call goes out to tens of thousands of Catholic parishes in Europe as the number of refugees arriving over land through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean to Italy and Greece hits record levels.
There are more than 25,000 parishes in Italy alone, and more than 12,000 in Germany, where many of the Syrians fleeing civil war and people trying to escape poverty and hardship in other countries say they want to end up.
It's not just about saying "have courage, be patient," Francis — who has made poverty and migration a key theme of his papacy — told thousands of faithful gathered in the square.
"Christian hope is more combative," he said, calling on "Europe's bishops, the true pastors to back my call in their dioceses."
The pontiff himself is the grandson of Italian emigrants to Argentina. The Vatican would lead the way, Francis said, announcing that its two parishes would take in two refugee families "in the coming days."
Drawing on a gospel story in which Jesus heals a deaf and mute man, he said a miracle had also taken place in Europe, where "we have been healed of the deafness of selfishness and the silence of retreating into ourselves.
"The closed couple, the closed family, the closed group, the closed parish, the closed country, that comes from us, it has nothing to do with God," he stressed.
Agence France-Presse and Thomson Reuters contributed to this report.