(CNA) Welcoming other Christians and showing hospitality to strangers, especially migrants, is an opportunity for unity and for sharing Christ’s love, Pope Francis said at the general audience Wednesday.
“Hospitality is important; it is also an important ecumenical virtue,” the pope said in the Pope Paul VI hall January 22. “First of all, it means recognizing that other Christians are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
He explained that hospitality “it is not an act of one-way generosity, because when we host other Christians, we welcome them as a gift that is given to us.”
The first step in welcoming Christians of other traditions is showing them God’s love and welcoming what God has accomplished in their lives, Francis said.
According to the pope, “ecumenical hospitality requires willingness to listen to other Christians, paying attention to their personal stories of faith and the history of their community.” It also involves the desire to know other Christians’ experience of God.
Pope Francis’ catechesis focused on the theme of hospitality as part of the Church’s celebration of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
The pope will mark the end of the week with the praying of vespers January 25 for the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
The theme of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity comes from a line in the 28th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles: “They treated us kindly.”
Acts 27 recounts the story of the storm and shipwreck of St. Paul and his companions as they attempted to travel to Italy by boat, eventually landing on the island of Malta.
The pope told the story, explaining that “the ship on which Paul travels is at the mercy of the elements.”
“For fourteen days, fourteen days, they have been at sea, drifting, and since neither the sun nor the stars are visible, the travelers feel disoriented, lost. Below them, the sea breaks violently against the ship and they fear that it will break under the force of the waves. From above they are lashed by the wind and rain,” he said.
“But Paul knows it is not so. Faith tells him that his life is in the hands of God,” he continued. “Therefore, Paul addresses his traveling companions and, inspired by faith, announces to them that God will not allow a hair of their head to be lost.”
The passengers all survive the ship’s rough landing on the coast of the island of Malta, where they are welcomed by the inhabitants.
“These people, foreign to them, are attentive to their needs. They light a fire to warm up, offer them shelter from rain and food. Even if they have not yet received the Good News of Christ, they manifest the love of God in concrete acts of kindness,” the pope said.
“The hospitality of the Maltese islanders is rewarded by the healing miracles God works through Paul,” he added, highlighting that if the Maltese people were a sign of God’s providence for St. Paul, he was also a witness of God’s merciful love for them.
Francis went on to note that the sea which shipwrecked Paul and his companions is the same sea men and women from around the world risk crossing to “escape violence, war, and poverty.”
Not only do migrants face the indifference and hostility of the desert or sea, he said, but they also risk exploitation by traffickers or being considered a threat by some government leaders: “Sometimes hospitality refuses them like a wave.”
He urged Christians to “work together to show migrants the love of God revealed by Jesus Christ” and to testify “that every person is precious to God and loved by him.”
The divisions among Christians “prevent us from being fully the sign of God’s love,” he stressed.
“Working together to live hospitality, especially towards those whose life is more vulnerable, will make all of us Christians – Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, all Christians – it will make us better human beings, better disciples and a more united Christian people. It will bring us closer to unity, which is God’s will for us.”