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Down & Connor diocese vows to help refugee families

Syrian refugees react as they arrive after crossing aboard a dinghy from Turkey, on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. The island of some 100,000 residents has been transformed by the sudden new population of some 20,000 refugees and migrants, mostly from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

THE second largest diocese in Ireland last night said it had began to "assess available space" for its parishes to take in refugee families.

Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor said a team of people was set up yesterday to examine ways to "support a compassionate Christian and humanitarian response to the current crisis".

It comes after Pope Francis urged Catholic parishes, convents and monasteries across Europe to host refugee families.

The Pontiff said the Vatican will shelter two families of refugees who are "fleeing death" from war or hunger and urged others across Europe to commit to sheltering at least one each.

With more than 80 parishes in the diocese of Down and Connor, it is hoped homes could be offered to refugee families arriving into the north.

Bishop Treanor last night said he was "taking up the appeal of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for parishes, religious communities and monasteries across Europe to host those fleeing war and persecution in Syria, Iraq and North Africa".

"...I have put in place today a team comprising of representatives of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Diocesan Curia, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and Trócaire to assess available space and other resources in the diocese that could be made available to support a compassionate Christian and humanitarian response to the current crisis," he said.

"This team will liaise with me and with the priests, religious and lay faithful of the diocese."

He added: "Alongside the more immediate needs of food and clothing, this will include assessing the capacity to accommodate refugees within parishes and the diocese as part of a first stage response to longer-term settlement and integration, which are integral parts of a cohesive and enduring Government response to the current crisis".

Other dioceses in the north last night said they were still considering how to respond to Pope Francis' call.

Fr Michael Canny said the Derry diocese supported the Pontiff's call for every Catholic parish to accept a refugee family.

"There are no plans at present but from talking to a number of people and several priests in the diocese, we are very much in favour with wanting to offer practical help without a doubt," he said,

"But this is at odds at the moment with how it will be done."

Bishop of Dromore, Dr John McAreavey also said he had "called for a generous response to the plight of refugees and committed the diocese to taking part in this".

He added that there were no specific plans made yet.

A Catholic bishop in the Republic yesterday also called on parishes in his diocese to begin identifying suitable accommodation for refugees when they reach Ireland.

Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran said he was asking priests to engage with parishioners to identify places that are available, "be it a vacant house or a granny flat".

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