Is ‘All Are Welcome’ really the message we’re sending in our parishes?

One of my favorite hymns to sing at Mass is Marty Haugen's "All Are Welcome." The song's message of openness and inclusivity is, to me, at the heart of what it means to be Catholic.

Of late, though, I've seen a number of disheartening examples of Catholics telling others they are "not Catholic enough" to be part of the church for a variety of reasons. But this morning I came across a much more encouraging message in the monthly newsletter from the Milwaukee-based Parish Evaluation Project about building a "culture of hospitality" within our parishes.

The PEP cited a homily given recently by the pastor of an Ohio parish, which was itself inspired by a message found on the website of a Lutheran church in Colorado. Here's an excerpt from the homily, which according to the PEP drew a big round of applause from those in attendance:

"We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, y no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail, or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you sing like Andrea Bocelli or are like your pastor, who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re just browsing, just woke up, or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s baptism…

We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid, or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers, doubters, bleeding hearts… and you! All are welcome!"

Sometimes it is easy to believe this is the message we're sharing in our parish community, but the real question is whether that's what newcomers are hearing when they walk through the door. If they aren't, or if current parishioners somehow get the idea that more strict requirements are now being applied to determine who is welcome and who is not, there's a good chance we won't see them in the pews again.

Have you heard a homily lately that reinforces this welcoming message, or have you found the words from the pulpit to be more exclusionary?

Should Catholic schools open their doors to everyone?

About the author

Scott Alessi

Scott Alessi is a former managing editor of U.S. Catholic.