The gathering began with a short presentation of Caritas Finland by CF's chair Larissa Franz-Koivisto. She also said a few words about our cooperation with the other Nordic Caritas organisations and the latest meeting between Caritas and Bishop Teemu Sippo SCJ. Caritas Finland coordinates the aid efforts of the seven Catholic parishes that comprise the Diocese of Helsinki. Caritas helps to coordinate volunteer efforts, but also facilitates contacts between the parishes and the various groups within the parishes. For instance, the Welcoming Team of the parishes in Helsinki was well represented at Thursday's meeting and is part of the efforts to help newcomers, whether they arrive in Finland as refugees, asylum seekers or other migrants.
Stella Maris and other housing options
After Pope Francis' appeal to parishes and religious communities to house migrants, Catholics from all over Finland have been in touch with the Bishop to suggest that the Diocesan Centre Stella Maris in Lohja could be used for this purpose. After discussions the decision has been taken that for now Stella Maris will not be offered to the authorities as housing for asylum seekers. If the situation changes, this decision will be reconsidered, but at present the Finnish Immigration Service is looking for bigger units (with room for 200-500 people). Another consideration is that Stella Maris would be best suited as housing for minors arriving in Finland alone, but for that purpose the location of the centre is challenging.
Catholics in Finland have expressed a great desire to follow the Pope's suggestion to house the needy. Since the Finnish Immigration Service are in charge of all housing solutions in the country, the Bishop has requested all people and religious organisations who may have suitable accommodation available to get in touch with the curia, so that the information about available housing options can also be given to the authorities in one go.
Sacraments and asylum seekers
Most asylum seekers in Finland are not Catholic. Since some of them are, however, information about Masses and the location of the churches in Finland will be provided to existing reception centres. The Catholic Information Centre will also take part in this effort.
Some participants who work at refugee centres told the others present about what the situation is like: people are moving in and out of the reception centres. It is essential, however, that people be treated equally at all times, regardless of their faith or lack of it; we will help because we are Christian, not because somebody else is.
It is also important to remember that the reception centres where asylum seekers are housed are the homes of the people living there. Whether they are run by the Finnish Red Cross or a municipality or some other party, they are areas where religious activity does not take place. We can and will, however, provide information about Masses and sacraments available elsewhere.
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