Keeping the Doors Open Wide

Here’s one of the great stories coming out of the trauma of Hurricane Sandy.
Close to forty-five fragile, elderly residents of a nursing home—a non-Catholic one—were left without beds in the Rockaways, because their residence was damaged. Where could they go?
The mayor’s office called us at the Archdiocese of New York, and we gladly offered the services of ArchCare, our archdiocesan agency coordinating and managing our care for the sick, housebound, and elderly. Scott LaRue, the director of ArchCare, with a genuine spirit of faith and charity, assured the city that these blessed people had a home with us.
When the ArchCare vans arrived to bring the forty-five folks to safety, they found that an additional fifteen were still without a place. “Please, take us with you!” they pleaded. “Can’t we come?” Although worried about just where he would find room for them, Scott replied, “Sure you’re all welcome! We’ll find a place for you!”
Long story short…he did find the room! All of them were made to feel at home! As he commented, “The Church is in the business of welcoming people in!”
You bet we are! I remember, a while back, hosting Elders from the Church of Latter Day Saints to my house for breakfast. At the end, I invited them to come next door with me for a visit and prayer to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. To my surprise, they were startled!
“You mean we can come into your church?”
“Sure,” I replied, “We’re in the business of welcoming people in!”
The Church is Catholic, which means universal; all are welcome! As James Joyce observed, “The Catholic Church means, ‘Here comes everybody!’”
That’s why the Church is especially vigorous in welcoming and protecting the immigrant. We inherited this noble moral imperative from our Jewish elder brothers and sisters, whose Law commands a solicitude for the stranger, the refugee, the outsider.
Jesus only fortified this mandate, with His sensitivity to those “at the side of the road,” those excluded, and His inclusion of “When I was a stranger, you welcomed me” in the listing of prerequisites to get into heaven.
Catholics in America have been particularly robust in defending the immigrant, since half of those who came here during the “century of immigration,” 1820-1924, were Catholic, a trend that continues today with beloved Catholic immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia now arriving.
Often, we Catholics have been a lonely voice in reminding the country that welcomed our grandparents that now it’s our turn to keep the door open, and that the legendary boast on the Statue of Liberty can never become a lie.
Periodically, America forgets her blessed heritage of welcome, and turns branding the immigrant as dangerous, a threat to pure Americanism, corrupt, lazy, and criminal. Sadly, recent years have seen a recurrence of this crude side of our history, with outbreaks of nativism. Neither political party has furthered the cause of sane, prudent, immigration reform in recent years, because it has become so controversial.
Now, thank God, charity and justice—and a dose of political pragmatism!—seem to be returning, with leaders in both parties acknowledging that the “nasty season” towards immigrants may be ending. Alleluia!
That’s very American…that’s very Catholic…
Our Advent readings often describe Jerusalem as the city that is a mother to all God’s children. Our founders compared that biblical version to the best that America had to offer. We Catholics compare that dream of Jerusalem to the Church.
A few weeks ago, the treasured main doors of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral were removed for a much needed restoration. Msgr. Ritchie warned me one morning that “our doors are gone, and the cathedral is wide open until the temporary ones arrive.”
Not bad, I replied. Our doors should ever be open. The Church is in the business of welcoming people… and so is America!