Launch of the project “Extended hands”

Marie-Christine Ries, delegate for diocesan pastoral social care, speaks of the reception initiative for migrants. The mobilization of the community

The pastoral project “Extended hands” has prompted “beautiful gestures of generosity” in Catholic communities of Luxembourg. The initiative, officially launched September 30, aims at welcoming and accompanying refugees and migrants in their daily integration within the Grand Duchy. In the course of a few days many people gave their availability to cooperate. Marie-Christine Ries, delegate for pastoral social care, member of the coordination group of the initiative, has shared the details of this story with Sarah Numico. Ries has visited “parishes to illustrate the project and encourage people to become creative” in this diakonia. Over one thousand new refugees have arrived in the month of September alone. How are arrivals handled in Luxembourg? “Temporary accommodation is offered by centres run by the Red Cross or by the reception and integration offices. Here people file an asylum-request. The process can last 8 to 12 months, during which they cannot work. Adults receive 25 euro a month, young people 12. Meals are served in the centre. Often they are transferred to immigration centres, which are smaller, but they continue being hosted in container houses. Each family has the right to a room, and often they have no access to kitchens. That’s where volunteers are present and help out. For example, in the centre of Bertrange, where I live, a group of volunteers regularly asks whether there have been new arrivals, what are these people’s needs, they accompany parents in school meetings, invite them to community parties, etc”. What are the greatest obstacles? “The period of time until refugee status is granted is a difficult period since people have nothing to do during the day. So various courses are offered for them, ranging from kitchen courses to ceramics, language courses or knitting. Then there’s the job problem. For Syrian families with a good formation integration is easier, but there’s the obstacle of the recognition of educational qualifications. It’s a challenge that legislation is called to respond to in the coming years to better integrate these people. There is a major housing problem, and that’s why the archbishop has sent an appeal to the communities to make any empty homes available to the families to help them return to be self-sufficient”. Has someone responded to the appeal? “Four families have contacted us a few days ago to offer a home”. How are local communities reacting to the launch of the project? “Some thirty people have already said they are willing to serve as ‘representatives’ in local communities. Not all pastoral communities have reception centers but in the coming months in all communities there will be refugees living in homes. And they will be needing humane accompaniment in their daily lives. It will be necessary to visit these people, help them go out and create new relationships. Anything is possible if you create small groups locally, guided by referents who, in coordination with the diocese, will help understand how the situation evolves”. But Luxembourg has already experienced migration… “Indeed, there are parishes with a long tradition of reception, and others that are starting to discover this dimension now. It’s a joy to witness the creation of this network”. Could you give us some examples? “The Focolari community, for instance. Four people have initiated French language courses at home for the refugees. The Christ the King Community has given its availability to serve meals in first reception communities to promote contacts with these people. There are many similar examples”. On other fronts the future of the Church in Luxembourg is not without difficulties… “The recent agreement with the State has radically changed the situation. Now town councils will no longer cover ordinary expenses of church property, and the congregations will have to deal with the costs. But we have no resources and the parishes are afraid to ask whether their churches will continue functioning”.

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