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Refugee Crisis 2015: After Pope Speech, Catholic Communities

Church leaders across Europe were scrambling Tuesday to find housing, food and other basic necessities toaccommodate a growing influx of refugees escaping conflict and repression. The flurry of charity came after Pope Francis urged Roman Catholic communities Sunday to follow the Vatican's lead and take in refugee families.

As Europe grapples with its worst refugee crisis in decades, the Roman Catholic Church has the potential to become a key player in helping resettle the continent's growing number of displaced Syrians, Africans and other refugees. Roughly 300,000 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe so far this year, while the Catholic population in Europe boasted more than286 million people with over 122,00 parishes in 2012. If the pope’s call is widely met, it could mean shelter for hundreds of thousands of people, church leaders said.

“May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe host a family, starting with my diocese of Rome,” said Francis during his speech, according to the Associated Press.

The plea came as Europe has struggled to come up with a united answer to the refugee crisis. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a quota system to more evenly distribute refugees according to each individual state’s populations and economic conditions. Germany has estimated it will take in 800,000 refugees this year.

With refugees arriving in cities throughout Germany, the country’s Catholic community has already begun to aid new arrivals by calling on members to volunteer, provide apartments to house refugees and donateitems including SIM cards for phones and baby food.

“We don’t start from zero,” said Stefan Foerner, spokesman for Berlin’s Catholic archdiocese. But with ever-increasing numbers, the question is now, "are there are more places we can offer?” he asked.

In Berlin,Germany’s capital and biggest city,Catholics representonly around a tenth of thepopulation,which has limited the church’s response, Foerner said. Despite this, Foerner said the archdiocese took the pope’s directiveover the weekend seriously. “We are planning to do more,” he said.

Migrants walk along rail tracks as they arrive at a collection point in the village of Roszke, Hungary, Sept. 8, 2015, after crossing the border from Serbia. Photo: Reuters/Marko Djurica

Images of refugees dying on Europe's shores and sleeping in train stations have flooded the news in recent weeks, along with a growing death toll. More than3,500 refugees from war-torn nations like Libya, Syria and Iraq have died in the last year trying to reach Italy, Spain and Greece by boat.

In the capital of Bavaria in southern Germany, the church has found places to house 1,000 refugees, according to Christoph Kappes, spokesmanfor the Archbishop Ordinariate of Munich. Kappes said the Catholic community has been working since 2013 to find housing for refugees. This year, the archbishophas pledged 5 million euros to theGerman Caritas Association to help refugees learn German and better integrate into society.

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