Hospitality is a core value of the Christian gospel and tradition. The Christian is one who is invited to respond to the hospitality of God in Christ by living a life characterised by hospitality. Throughout the ages Irish people have long been noted for their welcome but many would argue that such hospitality is extended only to their own .
Thus the Christian emphasis on a welcome for all challenges out growing fear and distrust of the stranger in our midst. In a time increasingly characterised by individualism and self-interest, Welcoming the Stranger explores notions such as self-representation and the representation of the other, accompaniment, and the recognition of human dignity; it provides reflections on multiculturalism and interculturalism within the New Ireland; it presents hospitality as a core virtue for every religious believer and as a core activity of the Church community and it relates hospitality to a number of contemporary concerns - human migration, the disablement of persons with impairments and ecological issues.
Dr Andrew G. McGrady is Director of Mater Dei Institute of Education, Dublin, and has served on the Irish Commission for Liturgy.
He is widowed and lives with his family in north County Dublin.
Papers given at a conference on the subject organised by the marvellous Hospitaller Order of St John of God. All are concerned with reviving the tradition of the hundred thousand welcomes in an age of individualism and a state more and more concerned with rights and less with duties particularly when there are many strangers in our midst. It s a voice we should all amplify and echo. Books Ireland December 2006
In this book we have a finely researched compilation of the reflections of seven well-known writers on the subject of hospitality. The sole woman contributor, Christine D. Pohl, states a fundamental observation that offering welcome to strangers is at the heart of the Gospel. In contemporary life it is largely overlooked as a significant Christian practice . Christine Pohl deals mainly with the biblical traditions of hospitality, mentioning especially the Celtic tradition. With other contributors, she writes of the St John of God Brothers tradition of welcome. Jesus challenges those who would follow Him to rethink to whom they pay attention . There is a copious bibliography. Fintan Brennan-Whitmore takes the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan as his starting point, examining imaginatively the sense of hospitality of those four people making the journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. So many of us divert our gaze to go out of our way to avoid encountering anything that will upset us . I have to say that in these days it is not always a lack of interest that makes us divert our gaze ; most often it is from sheer fear. Irish migration and immigration are discussed by Andrew McGrady, the Registrar of the Mater Hospital, in the opening chapter. The survival of all life on this planet demands a global ethic and an ecological conversion that recognises that we are all guests of a hospitable earth... We may even find God as a stranger who invites us to all-embracing intimacy. Bobby Gilmore looks interestingly at our ideas of blow-ins. He speaks at the shock of seeing a statement in the Immigration Museum, Cobh, Co Cork, stating that More than three million people left Ireland through this port. Thus in many other countries of the world we Irish are the blow ins. Sean McDonagh contends that while welcoming the stranger in our midst. we need to situate our concerns and our critique within the economic and political structure all that is totally destructive The Irish Catholic January 2007
In a time of harsh individualism, this book explores notions such as welcome, accompaniment, recognition and dignity. SPI Newsletter 2006
- CHAPTER 1: There is another way
My first memory of hearing about refugees was as a small child living in Dublin in the mid-1960s. A family lived near us who had fled from Hungary in the 1950s. I remember being aware of how unusual it was having foreigners living down the road from us; it was seen as something novel, different, unique. Only later did I understand the reasons for their flight.
A more extended contact with refugees began for me in the late 1980s when I was working with refugees from Laos in Southeast Asia who had come to the United States. The father had sided with the Americans in the Vietnam war, and after the collapse of the regime in South Vietnam, the family had fled to the US. The father had lost a leg in the war and they were struggling with life in the US and with the huge cultural adjustment it brought. We had to speak through an interpreter.
A local woman, who was working for refugees who had come to that particular town, had introduced me to the family. Their story shows all the issues about being a refugee. Persecution and fear of death or torture are often reasons for people fleeing their own country. People may be wounded or suffering a disability. They have a huge cultural adaptation to make, and local people can make a huge difference by the welcome they give.
Refugee status was officially established by the Geneva Convention of 1951. It was framed to help people who fled after World War II, and applied to events up to 1951. In 1967, the Convention was extended to cover situations that arose after that date.
In essence it means that if you are fleeing persecution, are outside your own country and need protection, the international community pledges to give you that protection. In the last fifty years, millions of people have received international protection by being given refugee status. At the start of 2002 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was caring for about twenty million people, scattered around the world as follows:
North America 1,086,800
Latin America and Caribbean 765,400
It is important to note that the status of refugee is only given if you are fleeing very specific forms of persecution. There are five explicit grounds. It has to be persecution for reason of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or because of your political opinions. People fleeing war, for example, are not refugees in the strict sense, since they are fleeing a generalised situation of violence rather than specific persecution.
Unlike when I was growing up, in most towns in Ireland today, the presence of foreigners is almost taken for granted. Our attitudes have been mixed. Sometimes we have welcomed them with open arms, as for example, in our response to those who came from Kosovo. At other times, there has been a reaction of suspicion, and we have wondered if they are genuine refugees. And sometimes, perhaps most times, we have been somewhere in between, with a reaction of confusion, not knowing what we think or feel. Thirty years ago, the issue of Vietnamese refugees seemed a straightforward issue. For refugee situations today, we dont seem so sure.
The truth is that the concept of refugee is not a straightforward one. Even governments interpret the Geneva Convention differently and people who qualify for refugee status in one country would be rejected in other countries. Many say, We want to help refugees but economic migrants should go home. But, even if you accept this approach, the question is how to distinguish between refugees and economic migrants. The dividing line is not as clear as you would think. If you flee to avoid starving to death, are you a refugee or an economic migrant?
From 1965 to 1997 President Mobutu of Zaire, now Congo, robbed his country blind, and his personal fortune was estimated conservatively at US$5 billion, according to a report on CNN in April 1997. His wine collection in a castle in Portugal was estimated at over US$2 million (World News Digest).
This, along with a host of wars in Congo, has taken its toll and now, in Kinshasa, the capital, 50% of the population have only one meal per day, and 25% have one meal every two days, according to the Norwegian Council for Africa. Annual income in Congo is about US$210, i.e. about 57 cents per day. This is despite the fact that the country is one of the wealthiest in the world in terms of natural resources.
In Eastern Congo, largely because of war, there were 1.7 million deaths between September 1998 and May 2000, and 34% of the victims were children younger than five years old. That means over 570,000 children under five died in less than two years. If you flee this kind of situation, are you a refugee or an economic migrant?
Trafficking in human beings is big business today, bigger even than the drug trade. Youve seen the images of bodies lifted from containers after suffocating to death, or washed ashore having failed to reach safety. That is happening daily in Europe, and now we are so used to it that it is no longer news.
If you survive and make it to the promised land, you can be a virtual slave, the women forced to work in prostitution and the men forced to work long hours on construction sites to payoff their debt to the Mafia who control this kind of operation. Failure to pay means brutal beatings or even death. Life is cheap, the trafficking business is lucrative, and nothing gets in the way of profits. If you are a victim of trafficking and in fear of your life from the Mafia, isnt this a kind of persecution? Shouldnt you qualify for refugee status?
Even victims of war may not, strictly speaking, be refugees under the Geneva Convention, yet surely they are entitled to special protection? We have an innate sense of who deserves protection and who deserves to be given the status of refugee, and we are often surprised when we hear peoples story and then realise they do not qualify for refugee status. The challenge for us as Christians is not to go along slavishly with Government decisions about who deserves help and protection, but to work out our own ideas on the basis of what is just and right.
The Catholic Church has taken a lead in this already. Vatican documents speak of de facto refugees, because they want to broaden the refugee category. They want to include in it people who flee their countries because of wrong economic policy, as well as victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters (Pontifical Council for Migrants, 1992).
What the Church is saying is that there is this large grey area between those who are, strictly speaking, Geneva Convention refugees at one end of the spectrum and those who are clearly fleeing to better their lives at the other. And so it speaks of de facto refugees. Governments in Europe increasingly want to deny that this grey area exists, as they harden their policies towards asylum seekers. But it clearly does exist.
What about people who abuse the system and who claim asylum when really they have no basis for this? The Vatican document is helpful on this issue, saying:
In the case of so-called economic migrants, justice and equity demand that appropriate distinctions be made. Those who flee economic conditions that threaten their lives and physical safety must be treated differently from those who emigrate simply to improve their position.