What does “All Are Welcome” really mean?

Few English-speaking Catholics in the US have not sung Marty Haugen’s hymn “All are Welcome!”

“All are welcome! All are welcome! …Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live.”

Sunday worship as a metaphor

Yet, Martin Luther King famously said over 50 years ago…

“We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is no East or West,’ we stand in the most segregated hour of America.”

When I grew up in the 1940s and ’50s, we had our own versions of “gated communities.”

Germans, Italians, Greeks, etc., lived in distinct neighborhoods. It was frowned upon to date, much less marry, someone of another nationality. We had national churches for each group… sometimes within blocks of each other. Of course, there were some churches for “people of color.”


Without naming names, I recently read about the walls of some of our gated communities. They fit the classic description of NIMBY’S. ”Not in my backyard.” They advocate for more humane treatment of migrants at our borders. Yet they live in clearly gated communities complete with security entrances lest someone “who does not belong” seek entry.

We are many decades into the phenomenon of shopping for “gated communities” of like-minded people.

Jesus’ attitudes towards the “unwelcomed” of his day

I began to wonder about Jesus and the gated communities of his day. I am not thinking so much of the physically gated communities of our time.  I think of the people who were not welcomed by one or other segment of the society in which Jesus lived.

  • Lepers, who are welcomed and cleansed (Mt 8:2-3, 11:5: Lk 17:12);
  • The sick, (Mt 8:17) who are cured on the Sabbath Day (Mk 3:1-5; Lk 1 4: 1 -6; 1 3: 1 0- 1 3);
  • The hungry, whom he welcomes as a flock without a shepherd (Mk 6:34; Mt 9:36; 15:32), to give them to eat (Jn 6:5-11), to provoke them into sharing (Jn 6:9);
  • The possessed whose expulsion of demons is a sign that the Kingdom of God has come;
  • Adulterers who are welcomed and defended against those  who judged them (Jn 8:2, 11);
  • Foreigners who are welcomed and attended to (Lk 7:2-10) and the Canaanite woman who succeeds in changing Jesus’ plans (Mt 7:24-30; Mt 1 5:22);
  • The poor, who are told the Kingdom of God belongs to them (Mt 5:3; Lk 6:20) and not to the rich (Lk 6:24);
  • Beggars, who in the parable they receive eternal life and the opulent rich man goes to hell (Lk 16:19-31);

The list could be much longer!

 Think also about the people Jesus chose by name

Before the phenomenon of the three seasons of “The Chosen,”  I never gave much thought to how those Jesus chose struggled to welcome others Jesus had chosen.

  • Matthew was not only an apostate Jew. He had a history of extorting the people who nurtured him. How difficult it must have been for “faithful” Jews to accept him with his baggage.
  • Peter not only left his nets to follow Jesus.  But he had to work out new relationships with his wife and mother-in-law.
  • Mary of Magdala could have been scarred by sexual abuse that led to a life as a prostitute.
  • What was the cost to Nicodemus, a member of the religious establishment, to secretly explore whether Jesus might really be the one?
  •  etc.

They not only had their personal histories to deal with. They also had to learn to accept others who did not share their beliefs and practices.

Yet… Jesus called them all to sing… and live…”all are welcome!”

Do we?

Click below for an early audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk.