Michael Prüller, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Vienna, told the Kurier newspaper that currently several hundred asylum seekers are being housed in church property, and that they should easily be able to provide housing for 1,000 people.
The Catholic aid organisation Caritas will help prioritise which families should be housed in church buildings, as soon as they are fit for habitation.
Prüller said that properties are currently being fitted with bathrooms and toilets, and should be ready by the end of September. “Dozens of parishes and monasteries have offered places in the last few days,” he added. The Archdiocese of Vienna includes 650 parishes, which extend into Lower Austria and covers a total area of 9,100 square km.
"Vacant rectories will be a rarity in the future. Before the current wave of refugees they were sold or rented. Now many are being prepared to house asylum seekers," Prüller said.
The canon of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Toni Faber, has said ten asylum seekers can be accommodated in an empty building next to the cathedral. "Probably two families. There have been discussions with the property management company and by the end of September two families should have somewhere to live - this is not about emergency quarters," Faber said.
The church will receive money from state housing funds to help pay for the renovation and accommodation costs. Together with services such as interpreters, medical care and educational support this comes to around €19 per day, per asylum seeker. Many church volunteers have also offered to help the refugees being housed in church property.
On Sunday Pope Francis implored Catholic institutions throughout Europe to show mercy to the refugees arriving in their countries by offering them shelter.
"May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary of Europe host a family, starting from my diocese of Rome," Francis said at the end of his Angelus prayers in Rome.