In his Christmas sermon, broadcast live on Austria's ORF and Germany's ZDF TV channels, Catholic diocesan Bishop Aegidius Zsifkovics of St. Martin's Cathedral in Eisenstadt, Austria, pontificated that tightening borders is an "erroneous opinion":
"Barbed wire, fences and walls are now many people's answer to the refugees [coming into] Europe. The terror of a few, as last seen in Berlin, reinforce many of us in this erroneous opinion".
Bishop Zsifkovics declared that we cannot let "Cowardly terror attacks, like that in Berlin, succeed in destabilizing our society, making us colder and less solidary. Let us not allow the terrorists this triumph -- we will not be ice cold like them!"
Since the bishop's speech, the Austrian Military Intelligence Service has predicted that up to 15 million migrants from Africa could arrive in the EU by 2020. The report predicts that a sharp rise in unemployment across the African continent will create a new wave of economic migrants, which will dwarf the current one, which has brought over a million migrants to Europe since the migrant crisis began.
In November 2016, Austria's interior ministry indicated that of the 287 Islamic radicals identified in the country in the past few years, 40 percent arrived as migrants looking for asylum. The data covers a period from early 2011 until 1 July 2016.
Bishop Zsifkovics' sermon was broadcast only five days after Anis Amri, an illegal immigrant from Tunisia, rammed a hijacked truck through the crowd at a busy Christmas market in Berlin, murdering 12 people and injuring many others.
Bishop Zsifkovics is Austria's representative in the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Union (COMECE). According to the organization's website, "The COMECE Secretariat works for the rights of migrants, refugees and hosting societies to be harmonised and respected in the EU for the sake of the common good in the Christian spirit of welcoming the stranger".
The Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, tipped to become the next Pope, appears to have a more realistic take on developments in Austria. His recent comments represent a sharp departure from the virtually unanimous view of the migrant crisis in the Catholic Church, represented by Bishop Zsifkovics. Cardinal Schönborn recently admitted on Austrian television that he had come to "rethink" his approach to the migrant crisis: Instead of accepting all the refugees, aid should be given in the Middle East and Africa, so that migrants could stay there, Schönborn said. He added that he was becoming "more cautious" in his attitude, as migrants had arrived in "unbelievable number" and "We have had to learn, this [crisis] goes well beyond our capacity and ability."
His statements made big headlines, and were described by one Austrian commentator as:
"unusual words for a representative of the Church... But they are also words which prove the cardinal's [sense of] reality. Yes, the enormous onslaught of asylum seekers has overwhelmed us -- yes, you can admit that."
That such a view is considered "unusual" says it all.
Cardinal Schönborn has clearly harbored doubts about the migrant situation for a while. In September 2016, he made headlines when speaking at the festival of the "Holy Name of Mary," which was introduced 333 years ago to celebrate the Western victory over Ottoman forces at the Battle of Vienna, in 1683. In his speech, Cardinal Schönborn asked, "Will there be an Islamic conquest of Europe? Many Muslims want that and say: Europe is at the end."
He subsequently backtracked, saying that his words had been misinterpreted as an attack against Muslims and refugees:
"Europe's Christian legacy is in danger, because we Europeans have squandered it. That has absolutely nothing to do with Islam nor with the refugees. It is clear that many Islamists would like to take advantage of our weakness, but they are not responsible for it. We are.... One must not take my homily to be a call to defend ourselves against the refugees, this was not at all my intention."
Already in February 2015, the British anti-extremist think tank, the Quilliam Foundation, translated an ISIS document, which detailed plans to use Libya as a gateway to Europe, sending terrorists masquerading as refugees, and urging ISIS fighters to flood into Libya from Syria and Iraq to then head for Italy and elsewhere.
What the ISIS document describes is known as a hijra, which means spreading Islam, or jihad, by emigration. According to the Quran:
"And whoever emigrates for the cause of Allah will find on the earth many locations and abundance. And whoever leaves his home as an emigrant to Allah and His Messenger and then death overtakes him, his reward has already become incumbent upon Allah. And Allah is ever Forgiving and Merciful." (Quran 4:100).
Unfortunately, national decision makers all over Europe ignored the news contained in this ISIS document -- an ironic result considering the current hysteria over "fake news".
One can think of many valid reasons for Cardinal Schönborn to "rethink" his approach to the migrant crisis. One of them is the inability of Austrian police to protect Austrian women from sexual assaults by migrants. In a pathetic move to cover up their helplessness, Austria's police distributed 6,000 rape alarms on New Year's Eve to prevent a repeat of the mass sex attacks in Germany a year ago. If activated, the complimentary gadgets emit a shrill sound aimed at chasing away potential aggressors.
The precaution does not seem to have been very effective, especially not in Innsbruck. According to the Express, on New Year's Eve, "Vienna's emergency services were inundated with calls across the country as reports of multiple sex attacks emerged, reportedly committed by dark-haired men with beards". In the city of Innsbruck alone, some 18 women reported having been groped by up to 10 men on Innsbruck's main square, where around 25,000 gathered. Senior police official Ernst Kranebitter said:
"We have not had anything like this happen here before. They were dancing around the victims and then suddenly grabbed their breast or stuck their hands between their legs. That's what made it hard for others to notice what was going on -- it all happened amid festivities."
In Oberdorf, Upper Austria, during the annual Christmas performance by the local kindergarten, a 24-year-old Somali man suddenly appeared on the stage during the performance, took a Koran from a plastic bag and began to preach. When he was arrested, he began yelling "Allahu Akhbar" ["Allah is the Greatest"]. "We were petrified and had tremendous fear for our children," said one of the kindergarten teachers. The Austrian news outlet, OE24, speculated: "What the African wanted to achieve with his Koran action... is still unclear". Indeed, after so many years, the battle cry of "Allahu Akhbar" continues to baffle Europeans. What could it possibly mean?
Then there is a 72-year old grandmother refusing to eat and dying in hospital, after apparently losing the will to live. On September 1, 2015, she had offered her hand to a 17-year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan to pull him out of a canal where he was swimming; he then raped her. He is due for release from prison in a few months, after serving a 20-month sentence, and will not be deported.
Are these events what Bishop Zsifkovics had in mind when he preached that accepting migrants from the Middle East and Africa must continue, as doing otherwise would destabilize society and give the terrorists the victory of making Austrians "ice cold like them"?
Since New Year's, in the Innviertel region, statues have been beheaded, prayer books burned and sacred images destroyed. Police have said the attacks could be religiously motivated, but they have not yet identified any suspects. On New Year's Eve, a chapel in the village of St. Radegund was attacked, and damage done to a statue of the Virgin Mary. Prayer books and wooden objects from the chapel were burned in a nearby wood. Another chapel at the nearby town of Auerbach was also attacked, with vandals smashing the glass guarding two Virgin Mary statues and stealing at least 22 murals, which they burned in the woods. A few days later, in Braunau am Inn, a third chapel was attacked. A figure of Jesus was stolen from a cross, as well as several other objects, and a statue of St. Barbara was beheaded.
In the past year, Innviertel has witnessed an influx of migrants as part of Europe's ongoing crisis.
While it remains to be seen who did this, the beheading of religious statues certainly raises the legitimate suspicions of a religiously motivated attack. If so, might Bishop Zsifkovics and others in the church who think the same way be persuaded to rethink their stance?
Bishop Zsifkovics, unlike Cardinal Schönborn, but with so many of his peers in Western Europe, seems to view reality as something they can bend to their wishes and discard at will, especially if it offers the opportunity for moral posturing. The destabilization of Europe has already begun. Bishops such as Zsifkovics are unfortunately helping to speed it along.
 The ISIS document states:
"... It has a long coastline and looks upon the southern Crusader states, which can be reached with ease by even a rudimentary boat and note that the number of 'illegal immigration' trips from this coast is massive, estimated to be as high as 500 people a day, as a low estimate. According to many [of these immigrants], it is easily possible to pass through Maritime Security Checkpoints and arrive in cities. If this was even partially exploited and developed strategically, pandemonium could be wrought in the southern Europe. It is even possible that there could be a closure of shipping lines because of the targeting of Crusader ships and tankers".
In September 2015, Newsweek Europe also reported on ISIS making calls for hijrah to Libya on social media.
John Richardson is a researcher based in the United States.