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Welcoming the Stranger View Comments
By Richard J. McCorry, D.Min.

Father Ed Doran, formerly of St. Gerard Majella Church, waves to parishioners after Mass at his current parish, St. Charles Borromeo, in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y.

IN 2008, I VISITED St. Gerard Majella Church in the Diocese of Brooklyn in New York. The greeter warmly welcomed me and I took a seat. The bulletin had an entire column devoted to welcoming the newcomer and contained a coupon to fill out if one wanted more information about church membership. I filled it out and dropped it in the collection basket.

The pastor, Father Ed Doran, began his homily by asking anyone attending the church for the first time to please stand up to be recognized (certainly not according to the rubrics, but a nice touch, nevertheless). When I stood up, parishioners clapped and an usher approached me, giving me an informational packet about the church and its ministries.

“For my entire priesthood, I have believed in the importance of hospitality,” said Father Doran.

Following the petitions, the parish prayed “A Prayer for Hospitality” from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) 2000 document Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity. As I was new, this was a strange prayer for me. I noticed people reading from the missal, which I started leafing through to find the proper page. The lady next to me noticed my struggle and, with a very warm smile, pointed to the back of the missal where the prayer was taped. It is one thing to be greeted by the pastor, but to have the person in the pew next to you make you feel welcome—now that gets your attention.

During the exchange of peace, many people approached me to welcome me to the parish. It was almost overwhelming. After Mass, more people approached and welcomed me, including Father Doran, who made a point of warmly greeting me.

This was already a “wow” experience of hospitality, way beyond anything I had previously experienced in any Catholic church. But then at 2 p.m. that same day, my phone rang. It was Father Doran personally responding to the coupon I had put in the collection, requesting further information about church membership. Clearly, this was a parish and pastor who lived the vision of Welcoming the Stranger Among Us.

“Hospitality is but one of the imperatives flowing out of our baptismal call, clearly mandated by Scripture, and is a present-day goal of our bishops,” says Father Doran, now pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y.

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Dr. Richard J. McCorry is a nationally renowned presenter and the author of Dancing With Change: A Spiritual Response to Changes in the Church, published in 2004, and Company’s Coming: A Spiritual Process for Creating More Welcoming Parishes, published in 2008 (iUniverse, Inc.).

He created and led the pilot project mentioned in this article in the Diocese of Brooklyn and travels the country, working with parishes and dioceses to help them develop more welcoming parishes. He lives in Rochester, N.Y.



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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog We need do no more than we are doing at present; that is, to love divine Providence and abandon ourselves in his arms and heart.<br />—St. Padre Pio

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