Radical Catholic hospitality: Transformation begins from within

Barb Arland-Fye
Sheri Wohlfert talks about hospitality during one of two seminars Aug. 23 and 24 at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Catholics have a choice — to be like Christ, or to not be like Christ. Creating a spirit of hospitality in parishes begins with building relationships and responding to others — even in challenging situations — in a Christ-like manner, participants in a seminar on Radical Catholic Hospitality learned.

St. Paul the Apostle Parish hosted the seminar on two days, Aug. 23 and 24, to help parishes’ staff and parishioners to develop and practice skills for sharing the Gospel with those they meet. The Catholic Hospitality Training Institute, an outreach of St. Paul Evangelization Ministries, explored the gifts of connecting, comforting and mercy with participants as ways to foster a culture of hospitality in their parishes.
Sheri Wohlfert, a Catholic wife, mom, speaker and teacher based in Michigan, represented the institute. She trained staffers from parishes the first day and parishioners in general the second day. The training focused on four areas: the call to holiness, sharing, serving, and building Christ’s kingdom on earth.

Wohlfert emphasized and engaged participants in prayer. She invited them to repeat a simple prayer that she takes to heart: “Come Holy Spirit, come now; come as you wish.”

Everyone is called to be holy, to grow in relationship with Christ, to become a community of saints, she said. The process begins from within, a willingness to change oneself. She shared a story about how the Japanese restore rather than discard broken items. A broken vase, for example, might be repaired in gold.

“We know we need to be rebuilt, restored by Christ. Our stories of what Christ has done in our brokenness, those stories draw people in,” she said. “All of us need the love of Christ in a welcoming way.”

Hospitality is rooted in Scripture, church history and tradition, she said. St. Benedict, in establishing the Rule of St. Benedict, said that all guests should be welcomed as Christ. “It’s about joy, not duty. It’s about compassion, not convenience. Are people feeling welcome in your church?” she asked.

To share and understand the love of Christ, Catholics must be rooted in prayer and willing to share the story of Jesus as they have come to know him. “It’s up to us to tell the story. What has Jesus done in our lives?”

The workshop participant manual states that “Authentic hospitality is a reflection of Christ’s love shining through us.” When reaching out to others who have drifted away from the church, “We don’t need to know why they left,” Wohlfert said. “We need to make them feel as if they did not fail by leaving. We need to look at them as Jesus looked at that one sheep (out of the 99).”

She talked about the value of personal prayer and prayer with others, and engaged participants in a prayer partner exercise. Everyone was asked to find a prayer partner, someone unfamiliar to them.

In praying for one another, the participants were to include adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication. Wohlfert marveled at what she witnessed: People holding one another’s hands in prayer, placing a hand on a shoulder, connecting with one another.

Christ came to earth to serve, and sometimes service involves dealing with people who are difficult or dealing with difficulties, Wohlfert said. She advised participants on ways to find peace in conflict. Take it to the Lord in prayer; speak gently and humbly; make a peace sandwich (a complaint sandwiched between compliments) and be motivated by love and a desire for the other person’s holiness.

Pam Hughes, a member of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, attended the hospitality workshop to build on the inspiration she gained as a delegate at the Vision 20/20 Convocation in June. “Hospitality isn’t just meeting someone for coffee. It’s a mindset, to treat everybody like you would like to be treated,” she said. “Something as simple as a smile could change someone’s outlook for the whole day.” She also appreciated the emphasis on prayer as a key component to radical Catholic hospitality.

“At the end of the day, I did not feel ‘trained’ as much as I felt challenged,” said Dave McKasson of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine. “Sheri Wohlfert both inspired and enlightened me to a different approach to hospitality. Tools including prayer, sharing and striving for greater holiness will guide me in helping grow God’s kingdom. It was a very rewarding experience!”

“Our hope is that people continue to see how prayer and relationships can produce so much fruit in our efforts to evangelize,” said Tasha Havercamp, who directs St. Paul the Apostle’s Evangelization & Mission team with her husband Michael. “Hospitality is less about offering refreshments and more about discipleship.”

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