Welcoming churches for thousands “outside the gates of Europe”
Austrian Protestant schools offer study places
GENEVA, 16 September 2015 (LWI)—The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches in Europe continue to advocate for and extend hospitality to thousands of asylum seekers fleeing into the region mainly from Syria and other conflict affected countries in the Middle East.
Since the August influx of people seeking refuge in Europe, churches are providing basic needs such as food, clothing and access to housing and medical care in parishes and local communities. They are also scaling up their advocacy to respective governments to do more to protect those seeking refuge in the region
In the Austrian capital Vienna, Protestant schools say they will offer 30 school places for refugee children and several places at kindergartens. "As schools and kindergartens in the Protestant diaconal sponsorship, it is very important to us, to support people in need," says Veronika Weisskircher, managing director of the Protestant churches’ education unit.
Diaconal outreach is one of the many areas of collaboration between Austria’s Protestant churches, which comprise of the LWF member church, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Austria and the Reformed Church.
Weisskircher said when the churches asked their educational institutions if they could assist the refugees, the request was met with “a strong desire” to offer such support. Some of the Protestant church schools and kindergartens “have been around for years and are experienced in working with children from refugee families," she added.
The schools include ten kindergartens, five elementary schools, three new middle schools and two high schools in Vienna. An institution for young people requiring specialized education also receives students from a refugee background.
German bishops affirm Christian responsibility
In the latest upsurge of asylum seekers, Germany has received tens of thousands of refugees, and expects to receive more. LWF member church leaders are among 20 bishops of Protestant churches who are thanking churches and encouraging them in their affirmation of the Christian responsibility to welcome fellow human beings, who in the current context, have been compelled to flee their homes and now “stand outside the gates of Europe and Germany.”
In a 15 September statement, bishops of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) to which several LWF member churches belong expressed their opposition to “all forms of xenophobia, hatred or racism and all factors motivating inhumane approaches or making such attitudes socially acceptable.” They cautioned that while there are concerns and anxiety about receiving so many refugees, such fears must be addressed seriously and “must not be misused to create a disrespectful or hostile atmosphere.”
The bishops affirmed their support for the European community in meeting its humanitarian obligations but also highlighted the need to address unjust practices that contribute to the underlying causes of refugee movements: climate change, wars, persecution, failing states and extreme poverty. “Our society is often profoundly involved in these reasons for fleeing through global trade relations, weapon deliveries and particularly through a lifestyle that is using up the earth’s resources. It is time to repent and turn away from these unjust practices.”
3000 volunteers in Hamburg
In Hamburg, Bishop Kirsten Fehrs thanked congregations for their support at refugee reception centers in the three church districts that comprise the Hamburg – Lübeck diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northern Germany. More than 40 parishes there supported by 3,000 volunteers are coordinating clothes’ donations, accompanying the new arrivals to the local authority offices, and offering recreational activities as well as German language lessons. Fehrs encouraged parishes to consider other ways of enhancing coordinated assistance to refugees in order to “strengthen the culture of welcome in our country.”
Finnish bishops emphasize Christian neighborliness
In Finland, the ten bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF) led by Archbishop Kari Mäkinen have asked their congregations to exert the principle of Christian neighborliness and offer indiscriminate help to those seeking sanctuary irrespective of religion and nationality.
In a 9 September statement, the Finnish Lutheran church leaders encouraged the ELCF parishes to continue cooperating with the authorities and others offering assistance by providing suitable premises and organizing shared activities. They requested parishes to take refugees into consideration when decisions about budgets and the allocation of offerings are made.
The Finnish bishops expressed hope that municipalities would support without prejudice the establishment of reception centers, and that the government would act in the shared responsibility towards those seeking asylum in Europe.
In his 4 September letter to European churches LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge reiterated his gratitude to churches for continuing to extend hospitality to refugees and to also speak out for them. He urged churches to advocate with their governments for legal and safe pathways” and “a spirit and systems of solidarity within Europe, so that refugees are treated with dignity.”
The United Nations refugee agency estimates that the number of people seeking refuge in Europe from war and poverty at home is likely to reach half-a-million in 2015. The current support by LWF member churches in the region is in addition to ongoing assistance towards LWF’s humanitarian support to over 2 million refugees and internally displaced persons globally including Syrians living in Jordan, and nationalities from other countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America.