“Welcome visitor! Welcome visitor! Welcome visitor!” The voices of the three year old children rang out as I stepped into their little class room at the St. John Paul II Children Nutrition Center outside of Blantyre, Malawi. The Center provides a nutritious lunch for children ages three to fourteen every day of the year. On average, the Center feeds at least six hundred children per day. The Center is run by the Community of Sant’Egidio and there is no charge for the families whose children receive a daily meal. This is just one of the many good works that I have witnessed this week in Malawi.
I and Deacon Frank Fischer are visiting St. Vincent de Paul Church in Blantyre. For both of us this is our first visit to Malawi and to Africa. We are being hosted by Fr. Ernest and Fr. Frank – the parish priests of St. Vincent’s.
St. Dominic Church in Kingsport, TN and St. Vincent Church in Blantyre, Malawi are beginning a new sister parish relationship and I am confident that the friendship will be a blessing to both communities! Malawi is a very poor country and certainly the generosity of St. Dominic Church financially can help St. Vincent Church tremendously but a sister parish is much more than just another monthly collection. It is an opportunity to enter into friendship and to be reminded that we are, in fact, connected one to another. In front of the messages of our world that often seek to divide and isolate; our Christian faith reminds us that we are all part of the family of God. When my brother and sister in Malawi hurts then I hurt. When my brother and sister grows stronger then I grow stronger. This is the same also on the Malawian side of the equation – our health is their health. Friendship in Christ is a grace that exceeds all worldly limits and allows for unforeseen blessings!
I know that a blessing I have already received in these days is a deeper awareness of welcome. “Welcome,” I have learned is a favorite word of Malawians. If there is one word I have heard over and over these past few days it is “welcome”. I have heard it not just from those three year olds but from all ages and all people and I have heard it in a variety of contexts.
I have learned that “welcome” should be more than just a quick and perfunctory greeting and to limit it to such a thing is to stunt its potential and possibility. In Malawi, I get the sense that when “welcome” is said it comes from a deep place of the heart. “Welcome” should be an opening of the heart. “I welcome you into my life and my day. I welcome you as a potential friend. I welcome you as a gift that God has provided for me in his providence. Because you are a gift, I take the time and I give the attention that warrants such a great gift.” “Welcome” can be, in fact, a way of living and a way of encountering other people, encountering the world in which we live and even encountering God, himself.
In the Letter of James we find these words: Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls. (James 1:21) Scripture reminds us that to live in welcome is indeed an attitude, a way of being, an approach to life and a spiritual discipline. When I live in welcome I choose to live in hope and in trust. I choose to believe that friendship can last a lifetime and that great and unforeseen blessings can come from friendship!
Our world is often rushed, exasperated, tired and cynical. We don’t have to live this way. We can learn the lessons of welcome and new life and new possibilities can be discovered!
As Deacon Frank and I have visited St. Vincent’s these few days we have been welcomed into the heart of this community. We have also, in the name of St. Dominic parish, offered welcome to our brothers and sisters in the parish of St. Vincent de Paul.
Welcome! We look forward to this friendship! We recognize one another as a gift given from the very providence of God!