8th October 2015 - When Pope Francis called on “every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe” to take in one refugee family, his appeal did not fall on deaf ears.
The Pope was speaking at the beginning of September as thousands of refugees and forced migrants arrived in Europe amid an escalating debate within the EU about how to handle the crisis.
Since then hundreds of religious communities (including two Vatican parishes) as well as ordinary families across Europe have opened their doors to people fleeing violence and poverty.
Meanwhile, even before the Pope’s appeal, the French Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) had launched its “Communities of Hospitality” project which provides short stay hospitality to asylum seekers.
As Fr. Jean-Marie Carriere, Director of JRS Europe explains to Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni, his aim is to extend the project to other countries offering advice and guidelines that are fundamental in making sure the “welcome” experience is a positive one for all,
Fr. Carriere says the project is based on first-hand experience and the desire to extend the project to other countries stems from JRS’s conviction that there are some indications to take into consideration if the experience is to be successful.
“This, he says, is the most important thing”.
“Our experience tells us that the first welcome (the first time a family welcomes a refugee) must be for a short period” he says.
Fr. Carriere says this period should not last for more than about a month because in this way the family will have a good experience, and even perhaps go on to repeat it with other refugees.
The second bit of advice would be: “never welcome a refugee alone” he says.
Fr. Carriere point out that it is essential that an organization in the parish or a network of people be there to offer support and coordination to the host family.
“The question is not only to ‘match’ the refugees with the places of accommodation (…) the main thing is that there is a human encounter” he says.
Fr Carriere says that after the first welcome that lasts about a month the refugee can move on to another place or family of welcome.
All in all, he says, this kind of accommodation lasts only for about six or seven months, afterwards it becomes a concern of the State.
He stresses that it is not only a basic need such as shelter which is offered in these cases, but “much more important: the encounter between the family and the refugee”.
Welcome he says “is the first step of integration”.
“The fact you welcome someone into your house and you speak to him” and understand his story is the first step of integration.
Fr. Carriere says the refugees also appreciate this aspect very much.
Finally they say: “we used to look through the windows of the houses from outside, now we know what is going on inside as well”.
And the JRS Director says, it is equally important to take care of the families or communities who are hosting the refugees: “This is our third advice”.
He is adamant that it is important not to leave the family alone.
Fr Carriere tells the story of a family who offered the absent son’s room to a refugee. The son came home earlier than planned and was angry because there was someone occupying his bedroom. The family didn’t call the coordination, but took the decision to have the refugee out of the house by the next morning.
“The point here, says Fr. Carriere, is not the decision, but the fact they did not speak to coordination” who would have found a solution, both for the family and for the refugee.
The generous attitude of families must be supported and accompanied.
“We need to have successful – that means joyful – experiences of hospitality. Why? Because the public opinion has been favourable up to this moment and now, it seems it could be changing” he says.
The idea of hosting refugees in families and communities, he says, “is a very good idea, a Christian idea”.
But, Fr. Carriere concludes, it must be successful. That is why the guidelines are so useful.