Overcoming the fear
When my mother told me to try a youth group at my local parish, I was at first reluctant. I wasn’t very social, and I was scared. However, I gave it a try and went to the meeting. It really surprised me! More than five people from my school were there, and I felt so welcomed by everybody in this group.
From then on, I realized that welcoming others and building relationships with our friends, family and God are far more important than feeling afraid. Now I try to never let anyone from a club, activity or group feel left out, whether it is in my choir, math group or a parish gathering. You can do the same too! Let everyone feel welcomed and happy.
Receiving and giving
Rafael Ongtengco, Illinois
In 1976, our application to migrate from the Philippines to America was approved, and my family and I decided it would be better if I go first. I was offered to stay with a relative. But after a few weeks, I had to move out.
People of the Focolare, who knew from my friends in the Philippines that I was in need, reached out to me without even knowing me personally. They informed me that there was a small house at the back of the men’s Focolare center in Chicago available. This required from me a leap of faith, since I just was promised a job that I could start in two weeks. I trusted in God, flew to Chicago and found a job immediately. When my family arrived, the hospitality and love we received from a lot of families was overwhelming. Divine providence arrived in abundance: a dining table and a fridge, a washing machine … but most of all, people helped us to adjust to a new culture.
Just as we received, we have tried to offer others hospitality, and our children did the same. Our son asked if we could take his classmate home because he had no money and needed a place to stay. He was kicked out from his apartment. For a few months, we were able to offer hospitality to this young man, and we were able to encourage him not to quit school. Another son came home after school with a classmate whose parents had kicked him out. We provided him a bed and in a couple days convinced him to return home and reconcile with his parents.
So much depends on me
Jerry Hearne, Maryland
My uncle Bill lived with my grandmother. Each time my Dad brought us kids for a visit, Uncle Bill would greet us with his customary, “Sit down and make yourself uncomfortable.” He told us stories about our cousins. We learned a lot through his welcoming spirit.
In society, however, we were also taught to be careful, to be wary of people’s intentions, to respect the privacy of others. There is reason for that, but it doesn’t always apply.
Last week, for example, while walking downtown, a delivery person was passing in front of me carrying two boxes she could hardly see over. It was clear which storefront door she was heading to. My immediate reaction warned, “Don’t interfere, don’t invade her privacy.”
I decided that this situation did not warrant such caution, and I managed to say, “I got it.” She received my gesture to open the door with such a welcoming “thank you.” Noticing, however, another set of doors several steps away, I sensed a repeated warning, “let her take care of it now.” And once again I had to decide against that conditioned response. I went over to open the second door, but it was locked! She then realized she needed to swipe her security card. I held the boxes so she could do that. We then went our separate, but smiling ways, no longer strangers.
I continue to realize that it depends on me: my questioning first reactions can lead to more meaningful encounters.
Like a family
Donata Ling, Toronto
Once I had a layover overnight in one city and was originally going to meet with a friend. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, plans changed. I arrived at the airport, and I had nowhere to go or place to stay. I sent a message to another friend, and within minutes I received a reply. It was already 8:30pm, but without hesitation this friend welcomed me into her home.
I learned that when we treat each other like family, we can feel at home, so now I try to do the same. I welcome people also by asking questions to learn and understand their story, in order to discover their real self and not what they show at first sight.
My house is your house
Giampiero Sciutto, Chicago
I remember the first time I came to the U.S. from Italy almost 30 years ago.
Three focolarini — I didn’t know any of them — came to pick me up at the airport. They needed no sign: I could spot them in the crowd from their smiles. They took me to the Focolare house, and they fed me. I had the impression that I was in an oasis — the environment that they created for me (the food, the non-inquisitive conversation, the trusting posture) had a quality of familiarity, whereas the desert (outside) was unknown and potentially dangerous (I had just come through security and immigration checks).
This warm welcome made me want to treat each neighbor that I met in the same way. To make a person comfortable, I try to speak a few words of their native language, I think of something to eat or drink to offer them to make them feel welcome (“my house is your house”). I always try to remember people’s names … and I try to smile.
Rose Schmitz, Texas
I realized that I feel welcomed when another person is truly interested in me, without any strategic thoughts or obligations. Since eventually we all want to be accepted and loved, I try to treat others the same way.
When I meet someone, I try to maintain eye contact while speaking. I compliment something about them that I noticed … or I ask for help or advice with what I am doing, so that they realize their opinions and ideas are helpful to me and they feel appreciated.
I like to invite people to my house for gatherings or meet at coffee shop to chat. Often I try to make an extra effort to be aware of the people that are alone at meetings, in the church pews or at events, introducing myself and others to them.
Welcoming one another is an important step to peace.
Compiled by Susanne Janssen
Living city magazine