Forensic experts investigate a truck in which refugees were found dead on a freeway between Parndorf and Neusiedl, Austria, Aug. 27. CNS photo/Herbert P. Oczeret

Pope Francis asks prayers for refugees after 71 found dead in truck

  • August 31, 2015

VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis joined Austrian church leaders in praying for the 71 refugees found dead in an abandoned truck near Vienna and he condemned the smuggling of migrants as an offense "against the whole human family."

Reciting the Angelus prayer Aug. 30 with thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter's Square, including Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, Pope Francis asked the crowd for a moment of silence to pray "for all migrants who suffer and for those who lost their lives."

He noted in particular the presence of four children among the refugees, believed to be from Syria, who were discovered in the truck Aug. 27; police believe they suffocated and had been dead at least two days before they were found.

Cardinal Schonborn, president of the Austrian bishops' conference, told the Kathpress news agency Aug. 28: "Such refugee suffering should awaken us, like a bolt from the blue, to the need for more generous attitudes and courageous decisions. The joint handling of the refugee tragedy in the face of such inhumanity is a test for European values."

"My sympathy is with those who've suffered this imaginably agonizing death, and I cannot find words for the contempt for human life shown by the traffickers," the cardinal said.

Police in neighboring Hungary, the truck's departure point, said Aug. 28 that they had arrested three Bulgarians and an Afghan in connection with the deaths of the 59 men, eight women and four children.

Bishop Agidius Zsifkovics of Eisenstadt said Aug. 28 that he was praying for the refugees, who had fallen victim to "a smuggling network deprived of any scruples" and "a subtly complicit and failed European policy."

"Europe has lost its innocence, and the idea of Europe as an area of peace, freedom and justice (has) been perverted by a lack of human vision by European elites," Bishop Zsifkovics added.

"The cup is now full, and the horror of the refugee tragedy is now part of daily life for the countries of Europe. Suffocating and drowning children, women and men are no longer just distant events."

Catholic leaders repeatedly have urged a more humane and effective policy by the European Union toward migrants and refugees, tens of thousands of whom have tried to enter Europe this year from conflict-hit regions of the Middle East and Africa.

A record 107,500 migrants were reported to have crossed the EU's borders in July alone;many paid large sums to smugglers to arrange their entry illegally

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