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Inside the Belgian church helping to welcome migrants to Europe

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By Ana Lazaro, Joao Vitor Da Silva Marques
Inside the Belgian church helping to welcome migrants to Europe

A Brussels church has celebrated the International Day of the Migrant and the Refugee and reflected on its thirty years of helping new arrivals to Europe.

The parish of Riches Claires has a dedicated committee for refugees that has been operating for thirty years. For many residents in the Belgian capital, it was a key step for their integration into the city.

Most refugees in the church arrive after fleeing their countries of origin for economic or political reasons. However, arriving in their new home has not been easy for most, particularly those in Brussels’ Latin community who, for the most part, had to learn from scratch the intricacies of the local language.

"The uprooting of our culture, of leaving our family members and leaving our friends is very painful," said Zoraida Hernandez, a Colombian human rights defender.

Over the years, the church community has evolved following the migratory waves. The first comers were Spaniards, then Chileans. More recently, it has been Venezuelans and Central Americans fleeing violence.

“The closure of the border with the United States is having a great impact because now migrants are looking for other places to migrate. And a very strong option is Belgium,” said Mario Velazquez, Coordinator of the Solidarity Committee of Riches Claire Church.

Pope pleas for compassion

This Sunday, Riches Claires Church hosted mass for the Day of the Migrant and the Refugee. It was part of a wider outreach programme being championed by Pope Francis

The Pope unveiled a bronze statue on Sunday depicting migrants crammed on a boat, and also decried "the culture of comfort" that leads to indifference in the face of a global migration and refugee crisis.

The Pope, who has made caring for migrants a hallmark of his papacy, plead for more love and kindness towards those fleeing wars and conflict.

"We cannot be indifferent to the tragedy of old and new forms of poverty, to the bleak isolation, contempt, and discrimination experienced by those who do not belong to 'our group,'" he told crowds.

Francis has often spoken of the need to be welcoming to migrants, travelling to the Italian island of Lampedusa in 2013 on his first trip as pope to comfort refugees.