Women religious work to welcome the stranger

Sisters discuss hospitality at annual conference

Sisters discuss hospitality at annual conferenceMYRTLE BEACH—More than 70 women religious spent Oct. 28-30 reflecting on Christian hospitality and how it relates to their lives.
The seventh annual Collaboration for Ministry Initiative Statewide Seminar for Women Religious focused on “Opening Doors: Embracing Our Brothers and Sisters.”

Christine D. Pohl, author of several books including “Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition,” gave the keynote address.
Pohl told the group that many people regard Christian hospitality as an abstract or mysterious concept, but it is a simple, direct way of reaching out to others as reflected in the Bible.
“Hospitality should be at the center of Christian life because it is at the center of the Christian Gospel,” she said. “People overlook the moral significance of hospitality.”
Pohl is a professor of social ethics at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. She said people in the Bible reflect hospitality all the time, from Abraham and Sarah welcoming strangers into their midst in Genesis, to Jesus’ regular habit of meeting and dining with tax collectors, sinners and others who fell outside the mainstream of Jewish society.
“It’s not hard to make a connection between the vulnerable people we see in the Bible and the vulnerable people with whom many of you work,” she said, “including ethnic minorities, prisoners, the unemployed, senior citizens, the disabled and the ill.”
Hospitality, especially welcoming the stranger, was a central tenet of early Christianity, but its importance has waxed and waned over the centuries, Pohl said.
It is crucial for Christians today to embrace the concept of hospitality, she said, not only because so many people are in need but also because hospitality is at the very center of Jesus’ message.
The speaker encouraged the sisters to continue to meet the needs of the vulnerable and lonely, but also to avoid a very human tendency to feel superior to people in need. One way to help those being served to maintain dignity is share meals or other fellowship with them, and invite them to take part in whatever way they can in parish life, or to contribute in other ways.
“The temptation is to lose respect for people because they are dependent,” she said. “We need to meet the needs of people while also respecting their dignity as persons … The recovery of hospitality is important because it’s a fresh lens with which to think about our faith. Hospitality is crucial to the credibility of the Gospel.”
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone spoke to the sisters on Saturday about the issue of immigration, a growing concern for the religious and lay people who often work with immigrants on a daily basis at the parish level or through social ministries.
The bishop described how tough laws passed recently in Arizona, Alabama and Georgia have caused many, especially Hispanics, to flee or live in fear of being picked up while going to Mass or running simple errands. Parts of those state laws have been put on hold by court order, and a lawsuit was filed in late October against a tough South Carolina law set to go in effect Jan. 1.
“The church is certainly going to be there for someone in need, and the church is not going to demand to see ID before helping someone,” he said. “The church’s concern is for the wellbeing of the people, because this issue will be with us until the [federal] government does something with the immigration laws in this country.”
Bishop Guglielmone said many Catholic clergy and lay people favor tough immigration laws, and the challenge is to balance upholding the law while treating all people with dignity.
“These are our brothers and sisters we’re dealing with, not just numbers,” he said.
He also led a question-and-answer session and celebrated Mass.
During the weekend, the sisters took part in group prayer, discussed ministries and the challenges of religious life.
The seminar was sponsored by the Sisters of Charity Foundations of South Carolina and Cleveland and held at the Marriott Grand Dunes.