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Parish In Vienna Welcomes Refugees Ahead Of Pope's Plea


When Pope Francis called on parishes in Europe last week to provide shelter to a refugee family, Father Peter Schipka was well ahead of that idea. He leads the Rodaun Parish in Austria's capital, where church land will be used to house 16 refugees. We reached him by Skype in Vienna earlier today, and I asked him where they'll live, exactly.

FATHER PETER SCHIPKA: We are now planning to have eight mobile homes, and each mobile home will host two refugees. And we have to deal with the government officials to get the permission to do so, and we have to find volunteers to help us and we have to find electricity for the mobile homes. So there are quite different things to do.

CORNISH: Help us understand how your parish came to this decision to not just help the refugees but to really have facilities for them on your property.

SCHIPKA: I'm not only the parish priest but I'm also the general secretary of the Austrian Bishops Conference. And in that function, I host a group in my office for the Austrian-wide coordination for refugees. And in June, we strengthened our efforts to look for church houses, monasteries where refugees can be hosted. And we encountered more difficulties than we thought, not because people didn't want to do it, but also legal difficulties. And I was a bit disappointed. So during one religious service, I suggested to the parish to think about that, to host refugees. And the end of June, the congregation and the Parish council decided that they wanted to welcome those refugees.

CORNISH: What are the other things you are looking for in preparation for this arrival in terms of, I don't know, interpreters or clothing - what are you asking for from your parishioners?

SCHIPKA: At the moment, we don't know which people will come so we don't know which languages will be needed. It's very likely that there are quite a few very well-educated people so they know how to speak English. But we are sure that we will need people who teach German and people who maybe bring clothes and people who play football and make other sports because the problem is, as far as I'm informed, the refugees are not allowed to work while they're here. So they don't know what to do while they're waiting for their decision regarding their application as a refugee. So I'm sure that we will have to try to keep them going, and maybe to help them to do their cooking and find the supermarket and so on.

CORNISH: What do you make of the EU's response to this crisis?

SCHIPKA: One of the major tasks of European Union is solidarity, and solidarity is not just regarding economy but also those people who are in need, who are refugees. And I think the member states of the European Union, all of them, should welcome people who are refugees, and it's not just a task of Germany, Sweden, Italy, Greece, and Austria and Hungary.

CORNISH: That's Father Peter Schipka. He's with the Rodaun Parish in Vienna, Austria.

Thank you so much for speaking with us.

SCHIPKA: Thank you.

CORNISH: And Father Schipka expects to receive the first refugees at his church in October. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.