Catholic Church properties could be used to house Ukrainian refugees
The Catholic Church is investigating whether its properties could be used to house refugees fleeing war in Ukraine.
Archbishop Eamon Martin, the Catholic Primate of All Ireland, said on Wednesday that “in all our parishes we have invited our parish pastoral councils and our financial councils and priests to consider whether there are any properties which we could make available to Ukrainian families”.
This included unused school buildings and rooms, he said.
However, the Archbishop said these were “in the early stages of defining the scope” and initial contact had been made with the relevant government department.
“I think that in the days and weeks to come there will be a lot of activity on the ground” with the parishes “in the front line”.
He said the church was “modeling what we hope our parishioners would also do in their own homes” and that he was exploring “a possibility” of offering accommodation in his own residence. “I wish I could bring somebody in,” he said.
Speaking alongside Archbishop Martin, the Church of Ireland Primate of All Ireland, Archbishop John McDowell, said he had registered to host a refugee under the scheme sponsorship from the British government and encouraged parishioners to do the same.
He said the Church of Ireland would also review its vacant properties, but the “focus” would be on clergy homes.
“By far the number of properties owned by churches are those that are inhabited by clergy and others and this is by far the quickest and most direct route to providing housing for people,” a- he declared.
In their joint annual St. Patrick’s Day message, delivered in Armagh on Wednesday, the archbishops said they were “deeply troubled and saddened” by the war in Ukraine and the ongoing humanitarian crisis and called for an immediate ceasefire.
They offered prayers for the people of Ukraine and praised the “encouraging” support given to its people from across Ireland.
Speaking to reporters afterwards, the archbishops sharply criticized the response of the UK government, which they say should be as ‘equally generous’ in welcoming refugees as Ireland and other EU countries. .
Ireland has a temporary directive in place to allow Ukrainians to move around the EU as EU citizens, while the UK has a more complex visa-based system.
Both archbishops said they believed “more could be done” by the UK government, and Archbishop McDowell said he would “urge them to do more now”.
“The Home Office is not a notoriously sympathetic department and may struggle to deal with these issues, but we would certainly urge them to do as much as other countries in the European Union have done and to do it with good grace and good heart and do it quickly,” he said.
“We have to be realistic,” Archbishop Martin said. “There are going to be a lot of people who will need our help, so by appealing to the UK government in Westminster we are also indirectly appealing to our own Assembly and the executive here to look at ways to find a free movement of persons seeking refuge in Northern Ireland.
“I think the UK may have said, let’s think about the bureaucracy and see how many doors we can open. It’s the wrong way.
“I really think that where there is a humanitarian catastrophe of this magnitude in Europe, it is incumbent on all of us to respond generously and urgently as needed,” he said.
The two church leaders also called for full north-south cooperation on issues such as access to interpreters, schools and teachers, and for Ukrainians to be allowed to cross the border without the need for checks. .
“This should become an urgent issue of cross-border cooperation,” Bishop Martin said.