The medicine of welcoming
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap
Welcome!Merħba! Such a small and insignificant word. However its ramifications are enermous! If the word welcome helps you start the day with a nice taste how much more will its spirit operate wonders in you and me! Welcome! When it is meant and not simply uttered from a malicious heart it works miracles in deed! Do we need to be welcomed? Have a look at our own family to see how much we are greatly in need of it. Let alone in the Church, God’s family and ours too!
In the homily of his last Mass in Paraguay Pope Francis gave an excellent cathecesis on the theology of welcoming. He emphasized that hospitality is the trademark of being a Christian. Speaking to a one million congregation the Holy Father stated how much good can it be effected if we Christians welcome each other in the Church. He squarely said that word ‘welcome’ is the kernel of both our Christian spirituality and our experience of following Jesus Christ. Nonetheless how many times we ignore it! How many times we inflict indesribable pain on one another by politely ignoring each other!
While referring to the Gospel of the day Pope Francis reminded the huge congregation of Jesus words to his disciples: “No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you”. He explained that Jesus “as the good master, the good teacher,” sends his disciples out to be welcomed, to make a first-hand experience of hospitality and, finally, to be able to learn one of the characteristics of the community of believers. “We might say that a Christian is someone who has learned to welcome others, to show hospitality.” The Holy Father also observed that “Jesus does not send them out as men of influence, landlords, officials armed with rules and regulations”.
And what does this imply in practice? Pope Bergoglio said that Jesus helped his disciples understand that “the Christian journey is about changing hearts. It is about learning to live differently, under a different law, with different rules. It isabout turning from the path of selfishness, conflict, division and superiority, and taking instead the path of life, generosity and love. It is about passing from a mentality which domineers, stifles and manipulates to a mentality which welcomes, accepts and cares”.
How unfortunate our evangelization becomes when it is relegated to what Pope Francis referred to as“any number of strategies, tactics, maneuvers, techniques, as if we could convert people on the basis of our own arguments.” The good news is that “you convince them [the people] by learning how to welcome them.”
But who can better welcome us and love us like our mothers? That is why the Holy Father wisely retrieved the powerful image of motherhood. He likened the Church with a mother who cares for her children.
“The Church is a mother with an open heart. She knows how to welcome and accept, especially those in need of greater care, those in greater difficulty. The Church is the home of hospitality. How much good we can do, if only we tryto speak the language of hospitality, of welcome! How much pain can be soothed, how much despair can be allayed in a place where we feel at home!
Welcoming the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner (Mt 25:34-37), the leper and the paralytic. Welcoming those who do not think as we do, who do not have faith or who have lost it. Welcoming the persecuted, the unemployed. Welcoming the different cultures, of which our earth is so richly blessed. Welcoming sinners.”
This is the real Church of Jesus Christ. This is the Church whose Mother is Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother! It is to this kind of Church that we are to approach with great confidence, open our hearts, entrust our joys and sorrows, our aspirations and sufferings. Because this kind of Church is fuelled by Jesus’ Mercy and protected by Our merciful Mother Mary!
May we constantly turn with utmost trust to Mary to teach us how to welcome one another caringly!