(RNS) A Roman Catholic bishop has challenged Austria’s plans to construct a fence to keep out refugees by refusing to allow the authorities to build on church land and arguing it runs contrary to the pope’s wishes.
A fence “would contradict the spirit of the Gospel, Pope Francis’s clear message to Europe, and in particular for a diocese that was in the shadow of the Iron Curtain for decades,” Aegidius Zsifkokvics, the bishop of Eisenstadt, told the AFP news agency.
The proposed fence on the Hungarian border near Moschendorf would cross two properties owned by the church.
The pope has been a vocal advocate for refugee rights and earlier this month brought three Syrian refugee families to Rome, months after urging each parish in Europe to take in a family.
Austria last year served as a transit country for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees seeking to reach countries in northern Europe, such as Germany and Sweden, and has also seen an increase in the number of asylum claims in the country.
The arrival of more than 1 million people in Europe last year was met with the rare closure of borders and plans to build fences, effectively shutting down the Balkan route to other countries.
“And now we are supposed to build a fence on church lands?” he asked.
“We need to tackle today’s problems at their root and that means: stopping organized human trafficking, stopping sales of European arms, stopping war and the deliberate destabilization of the Middle East and stopping the exploitation of African raw materials and agriculture by European firms,” he said.