Welcoming the stranger, and being welcomed

A young demonstrator marches in London Sept. 17, 2016, during a protest in support of refugees. (CNS/Reuters/Peter Nicholls)

I remember one time back in the 1980s when I was on the Quixote Center staff and a group of us were visiting rural Nicaragua. At that time, we were running the Quest for Peace program, which supplied large amounts of humanitarian aid to that country through our partnership with the Institute of John XXIII at the Jesuit university in Managua.

Quixote Center staff often made trips to Nicaragua to check on the progress of the program and to learn about new needs — and the deepening political reality.

On this trip, about four of us set out to visit rural villages to try to understand better how the aid we sent might be more useful to the people. I can recall being in the countryside in what seemed like the "middle of nowhere." We were riding in an old truck, and the dirt road seemed endless.

Then, we came upon a poor, rural home and were greeted with open arms by the family living there. Keep in mind that the U.S. was supporting the infamous Contras in their guerrilla war at the time, so Americans were not automatically welcomed.

But the people in this home, apparently knowing our connection with the Institute of John XXIII (known throughout the countryside), welcomed us with open arms. Much to our surprise, they invited us to have supper with them. We tried to beg off, knowing that these people had little food for themselves. But it is hard — indeed, impolite in the extreme in that culture — to refuse such hospitality. So we stayed.

They even killed their only chicken to provide us with a meal. I can't recall now what else we had to eat that evening, but whatever it was, it came from their meager provisions. We joined in the meal with good cheer and laughter — in poor Spanish! And I recall that one of our number who was a vegetarian actually ate some of the chicken out of respect for the hospitality of the family.

Today, I look back on this story as a golden example of "welcoming the stranger," and I was one of the strangers. Often, it is people who are poor who are best at welcoming others.

I think of this because "welcoming the stranger" is the theme of a special edition of Interfaith Voices this week. It features two Syrian Muslim refugees and four of their children who have come to the United States and have been welcomed warmly by a couple that is Jewish/Unitarian.

Then, there is an informative discussion about the Sanctuary Movement, past and present. Finally, we hear about an Armenian refugee who was taken in by an Arab sheik about 100 years ago — and now the descendants of that sheik seek refuge in Europe.

Click here for the show — I recommend it highly.

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