Pope Francis promises to shelter two refugee families at the Vatican: 'The gospel calls us to those who have been abandoned'

The Pope has urged Catholics to be generous in their hospitality as preparation for the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy.Reuters

The Vatican will take in two Syrian refugee families as part of the effort to help those fleeing crisis in the Middle East, Pope Francis has announced.

Speaking in St Peter's Square in Rome on Sunday, the pontiff called on people across Europe to respond practically to the growing need.

"May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe host a family – starting with my diocese of Rome," Francis said.

"Before the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing death in conflict and hunger and are on a journey of hope, the gospel calls us to be close to the smallest and to those who have been abandoned."

The Pope said offering to house a refugee family would be a "concrete act of preparation" for the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy.

Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi later confirmed the Pope's announcement, noting that Francis hopes his appeal will be heard throughout the "whole of Europe", and that both parishes within the Vatican – the Parish of Santa Anna and St Peter's Basilica – will be responding to his call.

Pope Francis has been outspoken in his response to the refugee crisis, urging for quick action from the international community. After 700 people died when their boat capsized in the Mediterranean in April, he said: "They are men and women like us, our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war.

"They were looking for a better life, they were looking for happiness."

He has also previously called for church buildings to be used to help those in need of shelter. "Dear men and women religious, your empty convents are not useful to the Church if they are turned into hotels and earn money," he said in September 2013.

"The empty convents do not belong to you, they are for the flesh of Christ which is what refugees are. The Lord calls us to live with greater courage and generosity, and to accept them in communities, houses and empty convents. This of course is not something simple; it requires a criterion and responsibility, but also courage.

"We do a great deal, but perhaps we are called to do more, firmly accepting and sharing with those whom Providence has given us to serve".