ROME — Pope Francis met with 35 refugees being hosted by parishes and religious communities in the Diocese of Rome on Monday evening.
The meeting took place in St. John Lateran Basilica, before the pope addressed the annual diocesan assembly of Rome.
In his brief remarks, the pontiff alluded to the prejudice the refugees, many of whom are Muslim, are facing.
“Love and fraternity go beyond religion. The violent do not possess religion, and religion does not bring violence,” the pope told the group.
Italy has been a popular destination for those fleeing violence and poverty in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and other parts of Africa and the Middle East.
Over 180,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Italy in 2016 alone.
The group meeting the pope represented some 120 refugees welcomed by 38 different communities in Rome after Francis made an appeal on September 6, 2015, for every parish in Europe to host at least one refugee family.
In response, Caritas Rome created two programs to help parishes and other communities support refugees: “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me” and “For a roof: Refugees in my home.”
Together they have hosted 121 people, first a group of 57, and then a second group of 64. As time progressed, many of the families were able to find homes of their own, freeing up space for new families.
Caritas Rome has begun special training for families who wish to sponsor refugees in their homes, so they know how to deal with the particular circumstances they may encounter.
“Thanks to those who welcomed you, and thanks to those who have agreed to be welcomed,” the pontiff said, calling the parishes who participated in the program “a good example.”
The Vatican has also sponsored refugee families, with St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican parish of Sant’Anna announcing they would each sponsor a family immediately after the pope made his appeal.
The Vatican is now providing three apartments as accommodation for refugee families, allowing them to get on their feet. Once they are able to provide for their own housing, they move out so another refugee family can move in.
In March, three new families from Syria were provided homes by the Vatican. The families arrived in Rome with the assistance of the Sant’Egidio community, which has worked with the Italian government to provide a “humanitarian corridor” to help prevent people avoid the dangerous sea crossing.
In April 2016, Francis brought a dozen refugees back with him on the papal plane after a visit to a refugee center on the Greek island of Lesbos.
Just a few days ago, it was revealed Polish Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the person in charge of the pope’s charity office, had given up his Vatican apartment for a refugee family, while he sleeps in his office.
Monday’s encounter took place the day before World Refugee Day, marked by the United Nations on June 20.
During his Angelus address on Sunday, Francis spoke about the UN commemoration, saying “today more than ever, we have to support refugees.”
The pontiff noted the “stories of pain and hope” of women, men and children fleeing conflicts, persecution, and other forms of violence. He also offered prayers for those who died attempting the journey.
Francis said by sharing their stories, refugees can “dissipate distorted fears and ideologies, and help humanity to grow, and help give space to feelings of openness and the building of bridges.”