" 'Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.' " Heb 13:2

The corporal works of mercy are how Jesus teaches us to put faith into action; they give us a model for how we must treat everyone, as if they were Christ in disguise. When we welcome the stranger,  we are giving welcome to Christ just as Abraham extended welcome, water and food to three men standing near his tent.

Children see playmates, not differences; teammates, not “others.” Children are welcoming. Upon reaching adolescence, their immune systems become infected with the cultural disease of disunity that classifies people by exaggerating their differences.

How can we extend welcome? The newcomer at church is a stranger; say hello. The new person lingering at coffee and doughnuts is a stranger; introduce yourself and then introduce him or her to the friends you usually visit with. As Pope Francis said, “A Christian is someone who has learned to welcome others, who has learned to show hospitality.”

In addition to showing hospitality, we welcome the stranger as witnesses to our Christian duty to welcome the stranger out of charity and respect for the human person. We believe in the dignity of the human person; no individual is more equal than another.

We welcome the stranger as witnesses to our Christian duty to be welcoming parishes for immigrants, migrants and refugees.

We recently attended a birthday party for a lady celebrating her 99th birthday (or, as she likes to say, entering her 100th year). She emigrated from Italy when she was 3. “My name is somewhere there at Ellis Island,” she says. She was brought over by her parents with one other sibling, leaving the older ones back in the old country until her parents could afford to send for them. Papa had sailed to America a few years earlier — a friend served as his sponsor — and became a naturalized citizen, which allowed our friend to also become a naturalized citizen at the age of 3. They lived in New York.

If she had emigrated a few years earlier, she might have been helped by St. Frances Cabrini. 

Frances Cabrini, whose feast day we celebrate Nov. 13, is the patron saint of immigrants. At the urging of Pope Leo XIII, she came to the United States to help the Italian immigrants who were overwhelming the major urban areas, including New York and Chicago. People were not initially supportive of her work for immigrants but she understood immigrants are not other, they are us.

Immigrants are our neighbors and the gospel of life demands us to love our neighbor as ourselves; love does no wrong to a neighbor. “In helping the foreigner … we have the opportunity to serve Jesus.”

We build barriers because we don’t know how to deal with the pain of others. Yet St. John XXIII instructed, “All persons must desire to break through the barriers which divide them, to strengthen the bonds of mutual love, to learn to understand one another, and to pardon those who have done them wrong.”

We welcome the stranger by first offering a warm handshake to those who may be marginalized. Then we talk with each other as neighbors.

Cato is director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Portland. Fr. Libra, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, is director of pro-life activities in the archdiocese.