This story has been updated.
Update: Pope Francis announced Sunday the Vatican would shelter two families of refugees at risk of death because of hunger or war, while encouraging Roman Catholic organizations across Europe to do likewise, according to the Associated Press.
Pope Francis, scheduled to make his first visit to the United States later this month, left out America from his call on Sunday for every Western nation to take in refugees fleeing the violence in Syria's civil war. The pope urged every parish and religious group in Europe to give sanctuary to the refugees escaping “death from war and hunger," the New York Times reported.
The pope's comments came during his Sunday speech to thousands gathered in St. Peter’s Square. The pope spoke directly to what he called the “tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees that flee death in conflict and hunger and are on a journey of hope,” Francis said, according to Vatican Radio, “the Gospel calls us to be close to the smallest and to those who have been abandoned.” During the speech, he specifically called on European bishops support the effort.
The pontiff may not have turned his sights on the U.S. in the lead up to his visit to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York, but a number of U.S. politicians have. Fourteen senators wrote a letter to President Obama last week asking him to let in at least 65,000 Syrians ejected from their homes. The Times described the proposal as impossible due to the present U.S. system of lengthy background checks.
The State Department has said it plans to increase the number of Syrians allowed into the country, to perhaps 1,800 by next year, but the Times wrote that "it would be of little more than symbolic value given the more than four million Syrians in need of shelter."
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who signed the letter to Obama, has called recent photos from Turkey, such as one showing a young Syrian boy washed up dead on the beach, "horrifying."
“[I]t is something that we anticipated and that’s why we wrote this letter. We knew of the mounting problem for the humanitarian issues, the moral issues," she told the Times.
Despite its own reticence to accept a large number of Syrians, the U.S. too has asked Europe to take on more refugees. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) recently took a trip to Europe and told the Times the onus is upon Western allies to take action. “It is incumbent on the United States to be of greater assistance, yes, but the Europeans also have a responsibility here,” Dent said. “Our European partners have a much harder time exercising leadership. They don’t want the refugees. They don’t want the migrants. At the same time, I don’t know what they are prepared to do to bring about greater stability in the countries where there are problems.”
Nevertheless, the Times has reported that the Obama administration has discussed the possibility of a major announcement tied to Pope Francis’ visit.