Welcoming the stranger

If you were riding on a train and did not know a single person, and you were stuffed in one compartment like sardines, what would you do? Who would speak up first? Or would you sit in stony silence for the long trip?

Here is a story about four strangers on a train who traveled together in the same compartment of a European train. The two men and two women faced each other. One woman was a very wealthy and sophisticated 70-year-old lady who was decked out in the finest of furs and jewelry. Next to her sat a beautiful young woman, 19 years old, who looked like something right off the cover of a fashion magazine. Across from the older lady was a very mature-looking man in his mid-40s, who was a highly decorated sergeant major in the U.S. Army. Next to the sergeant major sat a young, private, fresh out of boot camp.

As these four strangers traveled, they talked and chatted about trivial things until they entered an unlighted tunnel, and there they sat in complete darkness and total silence, until the sound of a distinct kiss broke the silence; following the kiss, a loud slap could be heard throughout the cabin.

In the ensuing period of silence, the four strangers sat quietly with their own thoughts.

The older lady was thinking, “Isn’t it wonderful that even in this permissive day and age there are still young women who have a little self-respect and dignity?”

The young woman, shaking her head and greatly puzzled, asked herself, “Why in the world would any man in his right mind want to kiss an old fossil like that when I’m sitting here?”

The sergeant major, rubbing his sore face, was outraged that any woman could ever think that a man in his position would try to sneak a kiss in the dark.

The private, grinning from ear to ear, was thinking, “What a wonderful world this is when a private can kiss the back of his hand and then smack a sergeant major in the face and get away with it!”

Probably few people can find humor in a tight situation when no one knows anyone else. In our less than charitable times, it would be easier to be quiet, silently judging the other people on the train.

Have you ever heard of the word Xenophobia? It is a fear, hatred or mistrust of that which is foreign, especially strangers or people from different countries or cultures. If this describes you, our bishops have produced a wonderful document to help you. It is called Welcoming the Stranger Among You.

Our Holy Father, St. John Paul II, referred to a passive of Scripture which says, “At the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithes of your produce for that year and deposit them in community stores, that the Levite who has no share in the heritage with you, and also the alien, the orphan and the widow who belong to your community, may come and eat their fill; so that the Lord, your God, may bless you in all that you undertake” (Dt 14:28-29).

The Holy Father also pointed to the Holy Family of Nazareth, fleeing into Egypt as “the archetype of every refugee family.”

He said, “Let us show hospitality to strangers and refugees and support the human rights of all peoples and offer them pastoral care, education, and social services, no matter what the circumstances of entry into this country.”

Our bishops call upon all people of good will, but Catholics especially, to welcome the newcomers in our neighborhoods and schools, in our places of work and worship, with heartfelt hospitality, openness, and eagerness, both to help and to learn from our brothers and sisters, of whatever race, religion, ethnicity or background.

Father Dennis Meinen serves as chaplain at Holy Spirit Retirement Home, Sioux City, for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in the diocese, and Faithful Friar of the Garrigan 4th Degree Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, Sioux City.


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