by Fr. Keith Branson, C.PP.S., Publications Editor
I ran into this quote the other day and put it on my Facebook wall; I pass it along now because of its particular insight. Wish I knew who said it first, but so far Google searches haven’t revealed it: “Become friends with people who aren’t your age. Hang out with people whose first language isn’t the same as yours. Get to know someone who doesn’t come from your social class. This is how you see the world. This is how you grow.”
After listening to Sr. Helen Prejean’s story of how she woke up to a broader world and eventually found a death row ministry through her life among the poor, these words above struck me as being a way to wake up, a primer in Missionary 101. We do tend to associate with folks our own age and background whether in small groups or in larger groups such as religious communities and parishes. We want to include those far off, but they stay far off when we call them. About 20 years ago, someone asked at one of our Assemblies: “Where are the people of color? Where are the young people?
Why aren’t they here with us?” One of my best friends, an amazing youth leader, gave me a profound answer when I passed the question to her: “Because you’re not where they are.”
Pope Francis talks about the Art of Accompaniment in The Joy of the Gospel, the call to walk with the poor and marginalized as equals. We tend to put out welcome mats and wait for people to see them; we talk with people, but keep them at arm’s length and don’t truly share ourselves with them. There are times we wonder if our hospitality is enough since people aren’t generally coming to us, yet I think the quote above, Sr. Helen’s story and Pope Francis’ art have a challenge for us. We need to go out if we’re to bring people in. We need to work on our technique of walking with, bend our missionary hearts to mastering this technique, perfecting this art.
I think this is important because it’s probably the reason for falling short of our hopes of being inclusive. It’s easy to walk with someone as their rescuer, their patron, their benefactor, but that’s not an equal relationship, a mutuality that binds at deeper levels. If the marginalized are to feel welcome around our campfire or our table, they should feel comfortable walking with us in the first place because we have been a good companion as their equal, because we have accompanied them well. It’ll be a frightening experience if we’re doing it right, but we’ll know we’re making progress when they accept our invitation.