Catholics in England and Wales are to be asked to find homes for thousands of Afghanistan refugees fleeing the Taliban.
Parishes will be requested to make large houses available for extended families and to provide the Muslim refugees with such items as clothing and computer technology.
Ordinary Catholics will be encouraged to befriend the Afghans and to introduce them to local facilities such as doctors’ surgeries and schools.
The extensive involvement of the Catholic Church in the resettlement of about 20,000 Afghan migrants in the UK in the next five years was announced by Auxiliary Bishop Paul McAleenan of Westminster, the lead bishop for migrants and refugees.
“The Church has got a plan to be involved in that process,” he told a press conference in Ecclestone Square, London.
“At the moment what is needed is genuine befriending and also what is needed are those who have the ability to communicate with those from Afghanistan.
“As the programme is rolled out more widely across parishes we will be asking parishes, if they can, to provide accommodation and sometimes accommodation for people coming from Afghanistan might be bigger than the family-sized home.
“They need to be welcomed, there needs to be a coordinated response so that the needs of the people are met – perhaps clothing, digital technology, laptops, devices.”
He continued: “Of course, as we have learned so wonderfully from the community sponsorship programme what really brings people together is when neighbours introduce them to local facilities such as schools, doctors, supermarkets and so forth, and that’s how the Church is taking forward the message of Pope Francis.”
He said: “We have welcomed many people in the past but now our task is to continue to protect them, to promote them, to enable them to take their rightful places in our parishes and to successfully integrate them.”
The bishop added that the Church had successfully helped to integrate Hong Kong residents fleeing oppression by China, many of whom have been welcomed into parishes and have sought places for their children in Catholic schools.
Previously the Church helped to resettle some of the 20,000 refugees of the Syrian civil war who were accepted into the UK from refugee camps under the Syrian Community Sponsorship Scheme.
The first Catholic parish in the country to welcome a family of refugees from Syria was St Monica’s in Flixton in the Diocese of Salford.
The scheme was soon extended to 10 other parishes in the diocese while other parishes across the country joined the scheme.
Parishioners of the Church of Our Lady and St Christopher in Romiley, near Stockport, in the Diocese of Shrewsbury, welcomed a family of five from a refugee camp in Lebanon where they have lived since 2012.
They were so generous in raising money to bring the family to Cheshire that there was a surplus of funds so large that the parish was able to use it to relocate a second family later from the war zone that same year.
The latest influx of refugees follows the decision of US President Joe Biden to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan, a move which in September allowed the Taliban to swiftly reconquer the country and impose a strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law upon its entire population.
The British Army has already evacuated many of the Afghans who assisted them and who were at risk of being murdered by the Taliban because of their cooperation with the West.
The enthusiasm of the churches for the resettlement of Muslims in the UK has nonetheless attracted some criticism, especially because of terror attacks like the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing that were carried out migrants.
Among those to raise concerns was Pakistan-born Fr Michael Nazir-Ali, former Anglican Bishop of Rochester who last month became a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph following the failed Remembrance Day bombing in Liverpool, he noted that Christian refugees were receiving little assistance from the West.
“Christians are especially vulnerable in many parts of the world to persecution based on religious faith … and Britain has been slow to recognise this,” he wrote.
“This country has not done enough to offer refuge to Christians from Syria or Iraq, who are unable to live in the UN-sponsored camps, which are dominated by Islamists and from which Britain draws its quota of refugees.
“Those persecuted in Pakistan, because of blasphemy laws, or in Iran’s theocracy, similarly find little sympathy with British refugee settlement processes.”
Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo for Catholics of the Latin rite, told Fides last week that new confirmations and extensions of the sanctions implemented by the US and the European Union on Syria were meanwhile “condemning many people to death”.
Bishop Georges said: “The everyday situation is in many ways worse than what we saw when Aleppo was a battlefield between the Syrian army and the militias of the so-called rebels.
“There are no drugs, the hospitals lack the equipment to save lives, the basic essentials of life, including food, are lacking, and many are barely able to get enough to eat every day to survive.”
He added: “The situation is all the more unbearable when one has the impression that the badly hidden aim of the sanctions is precisely to increase the suffering of the population in order to stir up dissatisfaction towards political leaders and pursue geopolitical strategies and interests by playing this game at the expense of the Syrian people.
“It is always the poor who pay, while the rich and those in charge are spared … these sanctions are criminal.”
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