I was recently appointed “Kaplan” (i.e. parochial vicar, curate) of two parishes in the care of Stift Heiligenkreuz: Trumau and Pfaffstätten. I am living with the pastor in Trumau. (It is the first time in 9 years that I am living outside the monastic enclosure itself).

Between Pfaffstätten and Trumau is the town of Traiskirchen. Traiskirchen is famous for a former barracks that now houses a refugee camp— asylum seekers in Austria are first sent to Traiskirchen before being distributed to other places. Almost every day I drive right by the camp. The camp is reputed to be very badly run, and now, with the huge increase in refugees in recent months, it is hopelessly overcrowded. Many refugees sleep outside in tents, or simply on blankets on the ground. The whole town is full of them walking about, or sitting in the shade. (Take a look at a google image search). In the mornings the are lined up outside the doctor’s office and the pharmacy. There are also usually people outside the camp handing out free stuff: clothes, soap, food, etc. One of our parishes (Pfaffstätten) organizes such hand-outs. The parish of Traiskirchen itself is doing all it can to help find places for people to stay, as is the Archdiocese of Vienna. The parish priest in Traiskirchen celebrates mass in the camp, and has asked me to teach him to celebrate in English (though Arabic would be more useful).

The refugees come from all over: Sudan, Afghanistan, Irak, and a great many from Syria. Most are fleeing war, but not all. One lady with whom I spoke is from (well, I shouldn’t say where she is from, but from a city that is relatively far from the war zones). She and one of her daughters ran away from home because they wanted to convert to Christianity. The lady’s husband is a strict sort of Muslim, who would not have permitted it. In fact, the daughter, who is about 14, received a text-message from him saying that he was going to find and kill her. The vast majority of the refugees, however, are themselves Muslims. There is a little building opposite the camp is now being used as a Mosque.

Many of the Syrian refugees are from the middle and upper classes, and still have some money left over from the trip, as well as smart-phones and other valuables. This leads some people to claim that these are “not real refugees,” and that the whole situation is being exploited to take over Europe for Islam. But whatever the long term effects of this migration will be, to question the motives of (say) a Syrian doctor or lawyer who has lost most of his family, and his home, and his job, and his country, and now lives in a tent in an overcrowded refugee camp in Traiskirchen, just because among the few things he hasn’t lost are a few thousand euro, an iPhone, and a gold ring, would be absurd.

If a stranger dwell in your land, and abide among you, do not upbraid him: But let him be among you as one of the same country: and you shall love him as yourselves: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)


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