Guest Columnists

Spirit of Inclusion Breaks Down Walls

By Father Eugene Hemrick

Residing on Capitol Hill is like living in the Green Zone in Baghdad: Sophisticated barriers abound all around its perimeters. Ironically, they were constructed by Latinos, the same people some Americans would like to wall off.

On top of this, some want to wall off Muslims from entering our country. In our own backyard, gated communities exist for self-protection and keeping “the undesirable” at a distance. Forgotten in all of this is the Statue of Liberty, a long-standing symbol of freedom and welcome to the immigrant.

The growing spirit of segregation, isolation, exclusion and marginalization gives us pause to ask, “How should we react to this?”

Heightened Fear

One phenomenon causing isolation is an era of heightened fear. In frightening times, people tend to be overly protective and distance themselves from “the enemy.” The desire to protect oneself and live a normal life exists in everyone and is a justifiable quest in most cases. When, however, is it unjustified?

When snooty selectiveness threatens our reasonableness and sanity, it then becomes inadmissible. Circumscribing ourselves by overemphasizing “me,” “mine” and “I” leads to illogical conclusions. To reason that only I have a right to select whom I will welcome into my community or country (from decisions based on fear) is unreasonable, and more seriously, it is un-Christian.

During Christ’s life, He dined with Pharisees, knowing they disliked Him. He chose a tax collector, who was despised by the Jews. He associated with the Samaritan woman at the well whose culture was anathema to the Israelites. He was forever mingling with and forgiving sinners, and on the cross, He assured the good thief of being with Him in heaven.

Someone might object that Christ mentioned the exclusion of certain people from entering the gates of heaven. But did He really exclude them or did they exclude themselves through a selfish disregard for others?

In Rome, Bernini’s colonnade bends around St. Peter’s Square representing the welcoming arms of Catholicity wishing to embrace all. St. John Paul II emphasized repeatedly the need for solidarity because we are all connected. Pope Francis continues this same message of inclusion today.

As the Statue of Liberty, Bernini’s colonnade and Christ’s example represent the spirit of welcoming and oneness, so too is this spirit needed to avoid the barrier of misplaced exclusivity.

Father Eugene Hemrick is a syndicated columnist for Catholic News Service.