Father Eugene Hemrick

Anxiety hit me as I flew into Lima, Peru, for the first time. Would my friend meet me at the airport? What would residing in Lurigancho outside the Peru city be like? Would my Spanish hold up?

To my relief, my friend was at the gate when I arrived. As we rode to his residence, he told me where I would sleep and added, “You are going to hear noisy ‘taxi motos’ during the night because we live on a busy street.”

It didn’t take long to feel at home because of his warm reception. Having a reassuring friend does wonders in alleviating fright of the unknown. That experience of feeling welcomed and the sense of security it created ended up in a lifelong bond between us.

My grandfather came to America speaking no English. As his boat from Italy approached New York, he was greeted by the Statute of Liberty. “Seeing her,” he told me, “felt like being welcomed into a new home.”

That same spirit of welcome is found in Bernini’s colonnades in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Rows of rounded columns symbolize the embrace of the church opening its arms to the world.

Today, growing fears of “undesirables” and the desire for greater protection are threatening our spirit of openheartedness and conviviality. This is nothing new. Wherever we go in the world, walled cities have existed for centuries. They existed because enemies existed.

In our present age and in my own backyard, the sense of the enemy is especially felt on Capitol Hill in Washington, an area walled in by barriers and police everywhere. This is due primarily to a heightened age of terrorism. How then do we create protections while not downgrading the spirit of welcome, to be cautious and yet not let caution harden hearts?

To meet this challenge successfully is to remember the spirit of welcome can never be taken away from us unless we give it away. Often when that spirit is lost, it is due to an ill disposition that has replaced the spirit of kindness.

Two primary reasons for ill disposition exist: domination and jealousy. Rather than befriending another, controlling him or her is preferred. Rather than lauding another’s progress, we become jealous and we see another’s gain as our loss.

Power along with economic and technological success are often portrayed as signs of greatness. When, however, greatness is seen more fully, people of all nationalities bond together as one in a welcoming spirit.