Welcome all

Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ 12 November 2023

Reaching out to the excluded does not weaken our faith or moral values, rather it shows our commitment to Christ’s way.

Anniversaries that touch on important aspects of our lives are always timely. So, it is with Social Inclusion Week (18-26 November). After the bruising Referendum campaign and result many Indigenous Australians feel excluded from their own land. The deaths of so many people in Israel and Gaza, too, will risk inflaming exclusion on the basis of religion and birthplace. Social inclusion is not to be taken for granted.

In this climate it is important to enter the experience of people who are excluded. Now we hear regular stories that bring home what it means to be racially profiled and regularly searched and treated badly by police, to be looked over for jobs in favour of people less qualified, to be abused on trams and buses for the colour of our skin and to be laughed at because of the way we speak. It is hard not to be moved and angered by these stories. They encourage us to ask ourselves why people are discriminated against and excluded.

Many people who are socially excluded have been disadvantaged by birth and by their place of living. Many were born into unstable relationships, had a precarious childhood in which they were subject to domestic violence and constant anxiety, suffered from bodily and mental illness, lacked access to health care and steady education, perhaps had to deal with addiction and dealings with the justice system, and lived in areas of high unemployment. In a more supported environment, families, health services, schools, and local groups would help children to integrate with society and to find a way to contribute to it. Where these supports are weak or absent, young people naturally find it difficult to master the skills and the self-confidence to make connections. As they are excluded from society, too, they will learn to exclude others from their lives.

Where people’s relationships have been closed down by experiences of rejection, uncertainty and fear from childhood, they must find encouragement to re-open them bit by bit. It begins with finding respect for themselves as persons, not for their looks, their money, the way they speak or their use to others. Social inclusion depends on social friendship – the readiness in ourselves and in others to welcome others into our lives and not to exclude them. It means looking beyond the labels that people are made to wear to see the person and their needs.

That can be difficult when we disagree with the behaviour or ideas of persons who are excluded. If we believe that drinking alcohol is wrong, for example, we may find it difficult to reach out to people who are addicted without showing disapproval. Similarly, if we have a high view of marriage as indissoluble, it may be difficult for us to look past the fact of a person’s divorce to welcome them into our circle of friends. Social inclusion can involve overcoming our harsh judgments.

In the Catholic Church today there are differences of opinion about how to respond to people who are LGBTQI+ and particularly to children in our schools who have changed gender. The teaching of the Church is that in general gender is a given. Catholics can fear that this teaching will be compromised if people who are LGBTQI+ are welcomed into the community, particularly if they wish to change gender. For Catholic schools there can be tension between the desire to include and welcome persons at a time when they are particularly vulnerable and the commitment to be faithful to the teaching of the Church, and so of Christ.

Pope Francis’ response to tensions of this sort is both to uphold the teaching of the Church undemonstratively, and to welcome effusively persons whose lives do not adhere to that teaching. As sinners called by Christ, we Christians are committed to follow Jesus in welcoming people whom others reject. To welcome students demands also that we respect them, are interested in them, and care for their wellbeing and that of their families.

This is just one expression of our commitment to social inclusion. It calls on us to reach out pastorally to all people who face rejection in our society. Through doing this we deepen our commitment to Christ’s way. This does not weaken our faith and our moral values but leads us to a fuller understanding of them and practice of them.


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