I have been amazed at the diversity of individuals that I have encountered at our Wednesday Welcome Table. Listening to a person's story is an integral part of my ministry as a Franciscan Friar. A specific conversation on a Wednesday in the fall will always stand out in my mind and was a moment of deep reflection for me.
Taking a break from washing dishes, I walked into the dining room looking for an empty seat to eat my lunch and enjoy the company of another person. The place was packed with one seat open near the window. I sat down across from a young man who was already enjoying his lunch. The young man said, "Please sit-down Brother, it's not every day that I get to eat with a Franciscan Friar." I was actually surprised he knew I was a Franciscan and knew to refer to me as a friar. He was wearing a Chicago Cubs baseball cap. I told him that I grew up in the Midwest and as a kid was a big Chicago Cubs fan. I mentioned that it is not a typical baseball cap to be seen in North Carolina. He proceeded to tell me that he also grew up in the Midwest. He then slowly took off his baseball cap, glancing around him. It was then that I noticed that he was wearing a kippah. A kippah is a prayer skullcap worn by faithful Jewish males. Orthodox Jewish males wear the kippah at all times during the waking day. This kippah was of many beautiful colors and looked handmade. I commented on his beautiful kippah, and he said that he was surprised that I knew the name of it. He proceeded to tell me that his kippah was made by his grandmother for his bar mitzvah. (A bar mitzvah is a religious ceremony for a Jewish male who has reached the age of 13 and is regarded as ready to observe religious precepts of the Jewish faith.) He then told me that he and a friend were traveling across the country on foot.
He continued to share that he loves meeting so many diverse people on his travels. He said some people have been so kind and hospitable. He said that there have also been some not-so-positive experiences. If it's discovered that he is Jewish, he said some people are really prejudiced and some even try to convert him to Christianity. It was then that I realized why he slowly took off his baseball cap and looked around to see who might notice him. I told him that I was so saddened by the actions of some individuals. We spent the rest of the lunch talking about the Chicago Cubs and enjoying our lunch together.
As I drove home that day, I kept thinking about this young man and his journey. He seemed hesitant to take off his baseball cap knowing this would expose his true identity as a faithful Orthodox Jew. I thought of ways to make sure that I would always respect the life of each person that I encounter during my day. When I arrived home, I looked up what Mother Teresa said about hospitality. I am always inspired by her comments and actions. Mother Teresa once said, "We are to treat all people as children of God. They are our brothers and sisters. We show great respect to them. Our work is to encourage all people, Christians as well as non-Christians, to do works of love. Every work of love done with a full heart brings people closer to God."
As we strive to be a Welcome Table to all individuals, may we also strive to respect the life and journey of each person we encounter daily. Help us Lord to spread your love in ways so that each person may feel warmth, respected, and even protected.