Pope exhorts every European parish to host one migrant family

Vatican's two parishes to host one family each as "gesture of solidarity"

Pope Francis has called on every European parish and religious community to each host one migrant family, as a gesture of solidarity. The pontiff said he would start with the Vatican state.

"I appeal to the parishes, the religious communities, the monasteries and sanctuaries of all Europe to ... take in one family of refugees," he said in his Sunday address at the Vatican.

The pope's call comes as the number of refugees arriving over land through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean to Italy and Greece reached unprecedented levels. Tens of thousands of Catholic parishes exist in Europe, over 25,000 parishes in Italy alone and more than 12,000 in Germany, which is the intended destination for many Syrian families fleeing civil war and people trying to escape poverty and hardship in other countries.

There was applause in St. Peter's Square as the pope, himself the grandson of Italian emigrants to Argentina, said: "Every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe, take in one family."

Francis said taking in migrant families was a "concrete gesture" to prepare for the extraordinary Holy Year on the theme of mercy which is due to begin on Dec. 8.

The Vatican's two parishes will take in a family of refugees each in the coming days, said Francis.

Francis’ first trip outside the Vatican after his election was to visit Lampedusa, halfway between Sicily and Tunisia, where many migrants arrive by boat. The Italian coast guard said on Saturday it had coordinated the rescue of 329 migrants who made distress calls from their rubber boats.