Radical Hospitality: You Belong


Radical Hospitality: You Belong

Please, do not turn the Church into a customs house: there the righteous, peoples whose lives are in order, those properly married, can enter, while everyone else remains outside. No. That is not the Church. Righteous and sinners, good and bad: everyone, everyone, everyone. And then, may the Lord help us to straighten things out… everyone!”

Pope Francis – August 2, 2023 – Lisbon, Portugal

I cannot imagine how the Canaanite woman must have felt when she approached Jesus with her request. Her daughter was tormented by a demon and the mother’s heart was hurting. By all social, religious and cultural standards she didn’t belong. But it didn’t stop her from taking a leap of faith. Jesus initially remained silent and his disciples encouraged him to send her away. She doesn’t belong here!

Maybe she felt like a teacher who wanted to get involved in the parish next to her school and was told by an usher to go to her own parish. Maybe she felt like a parent in a complicated relationship who wanted to have their child baptized, and was told by the pastor to put her life together first.  Maybe she felt like a young man questioning his identity and was now being told that he is “intrinsically disordered”.  Unfortunately, those “I don’t belong here” feelings of the Canaanite woman can be found so real in our society and the Church.

Jesus listened and had compassion. He responded with radical hospitality: You belong here! “Woman, great is your faith!”

I share this anecdote from the first days of our ministry here at St. Patrick Parish in Hamilton, Ontario often, because I believe that the radical hospitality approach changes peoples’ lives. There is an unwritten “rule” for new pastors: you don’t make any major changes during the first year of ministry in a new parish. You just listen, learn and assess the needs and reality of the parish’s life. In our case, as Oblates, there were some things that could not wait a year.

In the first week after our arrival it was brought to our attention that the fence around the property was unstable, rusty and in need of repairs. As we discerned what to do, it became clear to us that the fence simply needed to be torn down. The wrought iron fence was sending the message that said, “Stay away!” rather than “All are welcome!”

Hospitality is an important part of our Oblate spirituality. “Our communities seek to radiate the warmth of the Gospel to those around us. Our houses, therefore, (…) are characterized by a special sense of hospitality.” (OMI Const. 41) And so should our parishes! In practicality, this is expressed in preference of mercy and compassion over the rubrics and laws.

Tearing down the fence surrounding the property literally opened the space to all, and it was also a symbolic gesture of invitation and welcome. Sometimes it begins with a simple gesture of opening the door to the church with a friendly greeting. But most of the time it goes much deeper by helping those who enter the Oblate parish to find their spiritual home: a place of belonging and healing, a safe space to “come as you are” and be encouraged and empowered to put faith into action. It is coming from the principle of building bridges rather than walls.

By Jarek Pachocki, OMI
OMI Lacombe Canada – Vocation Director