I went home to West Virginia for the Christmas holiday. We visited my siblings and parents, and we all got together for a big holiday meal.
My cousin, recently returned from a six-week stay in Texas, described attending church after the November shooting that left 26 people dead and 19 injured.
“Churches have signs up now saying “Guns Welcome,” he said. “People want to know that they will be safe.”
My heart sank.
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you.”
Where does “packing heat” figure into the worship of a peaceful and loving God?
Someone else chimed in, “I don’t even like to see new people at church. If I see a stranger in the pew next to me, I won’t talk to them. I am afraid of them.”
I could not believe my ears. It’s bad enough that people are considered untrustworthy because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes. But to turn away from another, in a house of God, because you don’t know their name? This attitude literally flies in the face of everything our Church believes – and everything our Lord said.
There are more than 300 passages in the Bible that mention the stranger, the foreigner, the alien, and the exiled. Not one of those passages says “Look away,” “Deport them,” or “Move to the next pew.” No matter why the Bible talks about the displacement of people, the answer is always the same – welcome the stranger.
This past weekend, I attended Mass in Sanford, FL. The cantor was a woman in traditional dress. A fourth-grade girl made a speech inviting guests to her Catholic school. After the service, the priest pointed out that both of these parishioners were from Haiti. He thanked God for their presence and contributions to the parish. This Church had welcomed the stranger and was richer for their love.
We won’t all have a chance to help a foreigner acclimate to our country. Not all of us can march against deportation or address Congress. But we can all be missionaries. We can introduce ourselves to the new person in the next pew. And maybe, with that small step, trusting God and others in this most holy of spaces, we can find God in the next stranger we meet, too.
For more information about how the Dominican Sisters of Peace and our Associates work to welcome the stranger, click here.