There are countless stories from those who have been part of a World Youth Day. A thought I had in preparing to host pilgrims ourselves is the reality of being a visitor.
When you visit a foreign country you are in the hands of your host. You are in the weaker position when it comes to familiarity, knowledge and comfort. There is a lot to be said for a host who can ameliorate these factors to put their visitors at ease. Here is a story of such a person.
I had known Netti for three months. She lived minutes outside the centre of the city on what used to be a rural farm but around which the suburbs had slowly placed themselves.
Across the road was a petrol station and the tram sped past the end of the street. When you stood in her driveway, however, you could be forgiven for thinking you were an hour out of town.
A large stone wall like that of a small castle surrounded an internal courtyard cobbled with uneven stones. Beyond the walls were two fields, one with strawberries, the other short grass. Her family lived on one side of the courtyard where the walls were painted white and the window boxes were full of colourful flowers.
One day I caught the train to her house and her father answered the door. Netti set about making vanilla pudding and then invited me out to the strawberry field to pick as many berries as I wanted to eat. Later, when it was dark she fried pork and tomatoes and cut me a thick slice of buffalo cheese.
We ate in her dark kitchen under a hanging lamp and I thought how good she was. Now you may be thinking that anyone can host a friend. And you are right. But when you have seen how it can be done so as to make you feel humbled and grateful at the same time you never question giving your visitor the best of all you have.
What if that had been their last strawberries or all the pork left for the family’s Sunday meal? There is something to be said for the dedication to visitors that causes them to become less like guests and more like family.
It is not necessarily the case that our visitors expect to be pampered. But giving them three days of our lives is arguably our greatest gift.
Nothing is too small to go unnoticed to a visitor who has come to your door on pilgrimage. May our hearts and our minds be open to all who come so that we may receive the blessings that giving brings.