By Nancy Brouillard McKenzie, Ignatian Volunteer
This post is reprinted from a publication of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach (CCAO) and used with permission of CCAO, an IVC Partner Agency.
“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
Parishioners at St. Catherine of Alexandria Church in Kapaa on the Island of Kauai in Hawaii are known for their tradition of warmly greeting visitors and their outreach to those in need.
At each liturgy, a parishioner with a big smile encounters a visitor and warmly says, “Aloha.” Then, each visitor receives beautiful hand-knit lei from the parish.
Immediately, I felt those thoughtful, unconditional, and simple acts of welcoming and caring as powerful gifts for overcoming barriers, encouraging dialogue and including strangers into the most powerful community of all: the Mystical Body of Christ. Daily, I experience joy from being in that community and serving the Lord.
During communion, I prayed for refugees to receive the same welcoming and unconditional inclusion into new communities in foreign countries. Reality shows that makeshift holding camps and detention centers for refugees are not thriving communities that give joy, strength and vital support to each of its members.
I refuse to turn away from the discipleship that Jesus sets out for us because it is hard. I continue to pray and advocate for a better world of love, listening, and understanding. Moreover, I try to strongly persuade others that receiving an invitation to actively serve the Lord through the Mystical Body of Christ is a tremendous joy in itself.
As I visited the beautiful beaches and magnificent scenery in Hawaii, I continued to see the parallelism between my privileged life and that of refugees. I am not a refugee clinging to an overloaded and unsafe boat equipped with life vests and seaworthy rubber rafts for only a few. I worry very little about our next meal, a permanent residence for my family, or clean clothing for them for tomorrow.
Yet, Jesus makes me sensitive to the needs of others. Humbly, I respond to that call quickly.
In my younger years in Catholic schools, I always received an A in the category for “accepts correction” located on the back of my report card. After visiting St. Catherine of Alexandria Church in Hawaii, I know that, as a Eucharistic Minister in my parish, my welcoming needs fine-tuning. Although I cannot hand-knit leis, I can thank strangers for joining their parish with our parish to make one community of believers.
Welcoming different people into communities comprised of old members and new members fully integrated and accepted by all is how Jesus and the disciples formed communities. Neither Jesus nor his disciples gave leis to strangers to invite them to join early Christian communities. Instead, Jesus unconditionally gifted us with love, respect, and inclusion in his Mystical Body to share in faithful communities.
From my perspective, I strongly believe that using those gifts could bring individuals from different countries and backgrounds closer together to form vibrant loving communities that welcome and immediately include the stranger.
Nancy Brouillard McKenzie, an IVC Volunteer since her retirement from the federal government in 2011, is a volunteer at the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach (CCAO) in Washington, DC. The CCAO is the U.S. national advocacy office for the Missionary Society of St. Columban. The office serves as the line of communication between Columban missionaries serving in 15 countries around the world and policy makers in Washington, D.C. The mission of the organization is to work towards a more just, peaceful, and environmentally sustainable world by engaging in the political process guided by our faith and the Gospel.