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20150720cnsbr0421 webTwo police officers set up a barrier in front of a building June 28 after a fire destroyed a reception center for asylum seekers in Meissen, Germany. (CNS photo/Roland Halkasch, EPA)

MUNICH (CNS) – A German Catholic Church leader condemned an arson attack that destroyed a reception center for asylum seekers.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, president of the German bishops' conference, said the attack revealed that "some groups" were trying to "sow hatred" against migrants.

The July 16 incident in the Bavarian town of Reichertshofen, is the latest in a wave of attacks against hostels for asylum seekers as anti-immigration sentiments rise in Germany in the face of unprecedented numbers of asylum applications.

Noting that there have been 150 attacks against centers for refugees and asylum seekers in the first half of 2015, Cardinal Marx said the church must make clear its opposition to such "hatred and violence."

"Some groups are trying to poison the climate in our society and to sow hatred," Cardinal Marx said in a July 17 statement posted on the websites of the bishops' conference and the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising. "We must never tolerate this."

The building in Reichertshofen was being converted into a hostel for up to 67 asylum seekers and was expected to open in September. It was unoccupied at the time of the attack. Officials estimated damage at $160,000.

About 1,200 of the 7,780 residents of the town, located 40 miles north of Munich in the Diocese of Eichstatt, had signed a petition against the project.

Earlier in July, shots were fired over two nights at a converted hotel being used as a hostel for 150 refugees in Bohlen in Saxony.

Firebomb attacks have also been reported in other parts of the eastern German state, including in the towns of Hoyerswerda and Meissen in June.

Acknowledging that the number of refugees entering Germany had significantly increased since 2013, Cardinal Marx said people are risking their lives to fleeing war and conflict in the Middle East and Africa for the peace and security of Europe and other nations.

Germany is expecting an influx of 450,000 refugees and asylum seekers this year, which is more than double the number of those who arrived in 2014.

In Bavaria, four new reception centers are being added to the three already existing, but towns and villages are being asked to find accommodation for refugees once their applications have been processed.

"For many of them, it's not the first priority to obtain good living conditions, but simply to survive," he said.

"No ifs and buts – these refugees, many of them traumatized, are entitled to have protection and care," he continued.

The threats and attacks against the refugees, he said, testified to "enormous brutality that must never be accepted by our society."

"Those who remain silent in the face of recent events and look away, betray our right values," the cardinal said. "We must make our position clear against hatred and violence."

"There is no shadow of a doubt," he added. "Where refugees are threatened, the church is at their side."

alertAt the Spring Assembly of the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Joseph Tobin suggested that a delegation ofbishops go to the border to see for themselves what was happening to newly arrived immigrants, families and children. On July 1 and 2, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. bishops conference, and five other bishops conducted a pastoral visit to the diocese of Brownsville, Texas. Stops included Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle with the community, a visit to anHHS/OBR Shelter and Mass for the families there, a visit to the Customs and Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, TX, and a press conference at the end of their visit. Catholic News Service accompanied the bishops on their border trip. 

  1. Backgrounder and analysis of the bishops’ trip to the border: Cardinal DiNardo told CNS, “You cannot look at immigration as an abstraction when you meet” the people behind the issue.
  2. At final press conference, Cardinal Daniel Dinardo said the church was willing to be part of any conversation to find humane solutions because even a policy of detaining families together in facilities caused “concern.”
  3. Bishops serve soup to immigrant families at a center run by Catholic Charities and listen to their stories. Scranton Bishop Joseph Bambera said he found hope in hearing the people in the room talk about what’s ahead. They didn’t speak of making money but of finding safety for their children, he said, driven by “the most basic instinct to protect your family.”
  4. At an opening Mass he Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine near McAllen, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville told Massgoers, “The bishops are visiting here so they can stop and look and talk to people and understand, especially the suffering of many who are amongst us,”

A delegation of U.S. bishops goes on a fact-finding mission at the U.S.-Mexican border to learn more about Central American immigration detention.

Following their visit to an immigrant detention center, U.S. bishops said they are even more determined to call on Congress for comprehensive immigration reform.