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Earlier this month I had the privilege of leading a Quiet Day in the cathedral for some local clergy. We were reflecting together on the significance of welcome and hospitality in the Christian tradition. I began by reading part of the Rule of St Benedict, who makes himself quite clear on this point: Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received (Rule of St Benedict, Chapter 53). From this starting point we thought about two stories in particular: the hospitality shown by Cleopas and his companion to the stranger on the road to Emmaus, a stranger who they subsequently realised was the risen Christ; and Abraham’s welcome of the Lord at Mamre who appears to him in the guise of three mysterious strangers. Perhaps it is this story that the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews has in mind when he writes ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it’ (Hebrews 13.2).
Who, in our own time, are the equivalent of the ‘poor people and pilgrims’ mentioned by St Benedict, or the ‘strangers’ we read about in the Letter to the Hebrews? One group of people that would surely qualify are the children and babies who arrive on these shores on the boats that are crossing the channel on a daily basis. Yet it seems that the ministers in the Home Office have not received St Benedict’s memo. A couple of weeks ago the immigration minister, Robert Jenrick, ordered that murals featuring characters from the Jungle Book should be painted over at an asylum centre in Kent that is used to welcome children. When questioned in the Lords about the matter a few days later, another Home Office Minister, Lord Murray, defended the decision: (it) is clearly the correct decision that these facilities have the requisite decoration befitting their purpose – an answer that one might interpret as the triumph of cold-hearted bureaucracy over simple humanity.
Almost a year ago Robert Jenrick was a member of the panel of a Radio 4 Any Questions episode that was recorded at Wakefield Cathedral. As you would expect, I welcomed him warmly as a guest of the cathedral in the same way that we welcome all visitors. Should he choose to visit us again he would be equally welcome. After all, as I might be inclined to remind him, God shows no partiality (Romans 2.11).
With love and prayers,
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