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Volunteers Are At Front Lines of Europe’s Response to Refugees

21 Oct 2015 – By Paul Jeffrey

HEGYESHALOM, Hungary (CNS) — Along the border between Hungary and Austria, Rosala Holzschuh stands in the midnight darkness as thousands of refugees flow past her on their way toward Western Europe. As a cold wind swirls around her, Holzschuh looks for children with no shoes, and when she spots one, she grabs their parent and steers them toward a pile of donated socks and shoes.

As Europe faces its largest refugee crisis in decades, government agencies and charitable groups simply cannot fill the enormous humanitarian gaps. Holzschuh, a Catholic from Vienna, is one of tens of thousands of volunteers spread across several countries, shepherding the multitude of refugees and migrants crossing their lands.

“The children are freezing, and they arrive here after hours on the train with no food or water. So we need to help. I found a group asking for volunteers on Facebook, and so I come here and prepare sandwiches and try to give the refugees a warm welcome,” she said.

The president of the Hungarian bishops’ conference said such volunteers have played a critical role in responding to the current crisis.

“I have been to the borders, to the front lines of this crisis, and I’ve been amazed at the number of volunteers who have gone there to assist the refugees,” said Bishop Andras Veres of Szombathely.

He said that while Caritas Hungary was responding as best it could to the government’s invitation to assist those traveling through the country, it was the volunteers who made any meaningful response possible.

“Christians in Hungary have been very eager to assist the refugees, providing them with food and shelter,” he said. ”There has been a wave of solidarity to match the wave of refugees.”

Visiting Greece in mid-October, the head of Caritas Internationalis, Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, also praised the volunteers and said they illustrated the meaning of caritas, or love.

“Caritas is Caritas because of those simple people who give of themselves,” the cardinal said.

Elizabeth Hawn is a Catholic from Budapest, Hungary, who volunteers with Malteser International, a Catholic organization, to provide hospitality to refugees at Hegyeshalom.

“We are here because we have a mission to help people who need help. We are Christians, so we are here where we’re needed,” she said.

Lilly Kolarec is a Croatian Catholic from the village of Bapska, near her country’s border with Serbia. She spends all the time she can at the nearby border crossing.

“Led by our priest, the whole village has been helping since the beginning, since before all the aid groups showed up. We made tea for the refugees and provided diapers for their children. We did whatever we could to help them,” she said. ”And we’ll keep on doing that as long as we’re needed.”

Kolarec said Croatians see themselves in the strangers from Syria and other war-torn countries.

“We’re very sympathetic. We have, ourselves, experienced war and what it’s like to be a refugee. That’s why so many of us are volunteering,” she said.

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Tags: Refugees Relief Migrants Hungary