“Welcoming the stranger”, the Call and the Challenge
by Sr. Brenda Walsh, Racine Dominican
The call to
“welcome the stranger” has Biblical roots. In Matthew’s Gospel (25: 35) we hear
the call: “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink, a
stranger and you took me in and welcomed me into your home.” In Paul’s letter to
the Romans we read: “Welcome one another, just as Christ has welcomed you for
the glory of God.” The Catholic Church has offered a persistent call to welcome
the strangers in their midst by reaching out to immigrants and working toward
comprehensive immigration reform and other justice issues.
Pope Benedict XV1
calls on all Catholics to offer hospitality to those most in need. He unveiled
the theme for the 98th world day of migrants and refugees to be
celebrated on Jan 15th, 2012. The pope reminds people around the
world that the present time calls for all to intensify their missionary
activities around the globe. People who are migrating are seeking a better life
for themselves and their families, or hoping to flee from threats of
persecution, war and violence. The Pope calls people “to accompany the migrants
with prayer, solidarity and charity, as well as in fostering new political,
economic and social planning that promotes respect for the dignity of every
Bishops recently issued a letter on immigration and encouraged Catholics to
welcome immigrants and back comprehensive immigration reform. They reminded
people that we do this not only to solve the critical political issue but also
for the sake ‘of the millions of children and adults who live fearfully in the
shadows, are vulnerable to exploitation, whose family members are being cruelly
isolated, detained and deported. Our Catholic faith can and must transcend
political and cultural turmoil. We must remember all of us are migrants on this
earth, traveling together in hope toward our Loving God. The feast of our Lady
of Guadalupe was chosen as the day to promote this message.
reminded people of the important role that immigrants have played in the
building of our nation. They invite us to relate the immigration issue to the
sanctity of human life and to uphold the dignity of every human being created in
the image of God. There are 12 million immigrants in our midst and we must work
to help them live safe and dignified lives. We can work to help those interested
to find a path to citizenship, to secure work for themselves and their families
and to live dignified lives. Many are being detained, deported, separated from
their families or in dire need of the basics of life. This situation needs to
change drastically and be replaced with just and workable solutions for them.
What can we do to
help resolve pressing problem named by the Bishops, that immigrants are facing
First we need to
learn as much as possible about this very complex issue. Join a group that is
working with immigrants and people of other cultures. Look at the fears we or
other people may have that may isolate us in self-protection or isolation from
people of other cultures. Better to take a learning stance and be open to
listening to people of other cultures. Our hospitality is more than a legal
obligation. It means opening our minds and hearts to the culture and values of
other people just as Jesus did.
I will never forget
the refugees I saw in Thailand. They were coming from Laos to enter a refugee
camp in that country and it was distressing to see the condition they were in.
Many had lost limbs, were badly mutilated and the children had bloated stomachs
as they crossed the border. They were filled with fear and anxiety and lived in
great distress. By accepting them and loving them, some at least were able to
reclaim their own human dignity and after a long time in the camp were able to
make their way to another country to find a home. The time in the camp was
designed to help them prepare for the transition and a new life in another
country. It was a challenge and a privilege to walk with them and to help them
prepare for a more dignified life.
We are also called
to take a look at our own sense of white power and privilege and see if we use
it only to meet our own needs. How can we use it to welcome the stranger in our
midst and to open doors of opportunity for them, to treat them like equals and
help them claim and live with a sense of dignity and self self-respect and
acquire what they need to sustain themselves and their families? Start a
discussion at your church or with organizations you belong to and share your
experience of welcoming a stranger.
Here are some
questions to consider:
How do we
address the stereotyping of strangers?
Do you ever
want to keep silent rather than speaking up for what is right and just?
What would it
mean to you to offer hospitality to strangers?
What are the
risks and the challenges, the joys and the hopes?
might you experience in relating to strangers?
remember we are all God’s people and members of the household of God. How
will we prepare to respond to this daunting challenge?
God’s love and
hospitality is for everyone. They like us are strangers and pilgrims on
their journey home to our God.
We need to
build bridges to welcome the strangers in our churches, neighborhoods or
wherever they are.
Let us continue the journey with
courage, conviction and hope and work to build a better future for all.