ROME (AP) — Pope Francis urged members of religious orders on Tuesday to use empty convents and other structures to house refugees fleeing war and hardship, not as hotels.
The pope spoke during a visit to refugees at a Jesuit-run center in Rome's historic center.
Francis urged members of religious orders to welcome refugees "in the empty houses and convents. Dear religious men and women, the church does not need the empty convents to be turned into hotels to earn money. The empty houses are not ours. They are for the flesh of Christ, which are the refugees."
Many convents started opening their doors to paying guests in the run-up to the Holy Year in 2000, when the religious and millennium celebrations drew 25 million visitors to Rome. The trend has spread throughout Italy with former religious housing being offered as guest houses for more contemplative vacations.
The pope's 90-minute visit to the refugee center in Rome was part of his mission to extend solidarity to migrants fleeing war and hardship for Europe. He met with about 500 people, including refugees, workers and volunteers.
Pope Francis arrived discreetly without a motorcade and greeted refugees and well-wishers waiting outside the center run by Jesuits, his order. Inside, Italian media said he blessed a pregnant woman before going to the cafeteria where refugees were eating.
The pope noted that many of the refugees were Muslim and from many different countries, adding: "We don't need to fear the differences."
The pope's private visit follows his July trip to Lampedusa, the southern Italian island that is a main port of entry each year for migrants reaching Europe via Libya or Tunisia, to draw attention to refugees' plight.