independent

Friday 17 November 2017

Our warm welcome has positive impact

FR BRIAN WHELAN

THE PHRASE ' Céad mile fáilte' is, along with the word 'sláinte', probably one of the best known Irish phrases across the world. "Ireland of the welcomes" has been launched on the world stage once again these days with the visits of England's Queen Elizabeth and America's President Obama.

In the lead up to both visits, there was much talk about how each would go, whether or not we should be spending such vast amounts of money entertaining foreign dignitaries while our economy is in such peril, and indeed whether or not the Queen of England should be welcomed here at all!

But the warmth, with which the Queen was received and welcomed, as indeed was President Obama, has had a massive impact on observers across the globe. The knock-on effect for tourism in our country will in time prove the worth of these visits. Because the Irish have always been known for their welcome, and the warmth of our hospitality is something of legend.

It's not that difficult to welcome a Head of State, but there are other ways in which we are called upon to show the famous Irish welcome too. So maybe it's no harm then to look a little deeper and examine how welcoming we are in the everyday.

For instance, how do we welcome the foreigner? The influx of people from other European countries coming here seeking work and a new life had a mixed reaction in the beginning, but at this stage Ireland is as multi-cultural and multi-ethnic as anywhere, and probably all the better for it.

We know in our hearts it's not good to alienate people, to make them outcasts, but even if we're not the people who do this, who make people 'outcasts', what do we do to make them welcome once more, and include them? Or do we carry on and turn a blind eye and a deaf ear? I'm not just thinking of foreigners of course, I'm also thinking of others who society likes to forget, people with disabilities, people who have different beliefs and cultures, people who are 'different' in any way.

When society ignores people or treats them as outcasts, we have a moral obligation to try to welcome them, to be inclusive and show them love. It only takes one kind person to reach out and make a difference to another, a difference that could possibly change the course of their lives.

In the Gospels Jesus was that person. He reached out to strangers and outcasts. He sat down to dinner with tax collectors and prostitutes. He associated with lepers and beggars. And he did it with warmth and with love. Indeed the Gospels are littered with stories of welcome, think about the Innkeeper in Bethlehem, or the way in which Elizabeth welcomed Mary when they were both pregnant. Think about Martha and Mary, the two sisters who welcomed Jesus into their home, and what about that familiar old guy Zaccheus.

The month of May each year has traditionally been the time when First Holy Communions are celebrated in parishes the length and breadth of Ireland. They are happy and joyous occasions, accompanied by the outfits and the parties and the presents, all of which add to the occasion, but none of which are central to what the day is really all about.

On the First holy Communion day, the 'communicant', the child receiving holy communion, is welcoming Jesus into their hearts and into their lives in a very special way. The life lessons being learnt go way beyond the religious/ritual aspect though.

To learn the importance of being a welcoming person, and being part of a welcoming community, can't be overestimated. Because what happens to us in Holy Communion is that Jesus gives Himself to us in this way that we might be transformed and become more like Him, and in becoming more like Him, we don't become less who we are, but more as we are meant to be.

We are a people who have a capacity to welcome others. The Queen and President show us how to do that on a big scale, but there are myriads of smaller ways we can do that too.

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