By Gerald Korson
Having greeters at the church doors before Mass is no big deal. Virtually every parish has greeters. Even Wal-Mart has greeters.
At St. Mary Cathedral in downtown Colorado Springs, Colo., the idea of hospitality ministry goes way beyond the smiling faces at the door.
And while visitors won't need to watch out for falling prices, they will find themselves feeling right at home in this Catholic community that has made hospitality and warm welcomes an integral part of every parish activity.
Father Francisco Quezada, St. MaryÕs pastor, experienced that hospitality firsthand when he arrived at the parish a year ago.
"I noticed right away that parishioners were very welcoming to me, as they are to the stranger," Father Quezada told Our Sunday Visitor. "I think this parish prides itself in welcoming all, especially the downtrodden and those perhaps marginalized in society, which an inner-city parish somehow attracts."
The downtown's homeless are welcomed to St. Mary's as warmly as any parishioner, and they are fed across the street at Marian House, a soup kitchen the cathedral parish helped establish a decade ago. "We have a trickle of homeless coming into our cathedral, especially during the winter," the pastor said. "The pews become quite a nice little bed during the day."
Father Quezada even established his office in the administrative building adjacent to the church, a move that allows him to have direct contact with the poor that come to his door.
"It provides me an opportunity to spend some time each day to talk with them," he said. "It's been quite a humbling experience."
Bonnie Grabinski, volunteer coordinator for hospitality, told Our Sunday Visitor that the entire parish seems to recognize that when it comes to the homeless, there is no line drawn in the street.
"Poor, homeless. . . I don't think it's a 'them'and an 'us.' It's a 'we,'" Grabinski said. "Father Quezada is a very big advocate that we are all God's children. It's not like, "You go sit over there because you don't smell good." That's not the way it is."
The homeless who are present during Mass or other parish activities are never asked to leave unless they cause a disturbance, which is rare.
"We never kick them out. We don't even think of that," she said.
Grabinski herself is a relative newcomer, having been in the parish for about two years. She and Father Quezada both credit the welcoming spirit of the parish to its former pastor, Father Don Dunn, who encouraged outreach to the wider community and to the poor within it.
That community spirit permeates every ministry within the parish. Intercessory prayer for members of the community begins every Scripture class or adult-formation session. Parish volunteers take care of preparing and serving meals at Marian House one weekend each month, sharing that duty with other church and community groups.
A vibrant "Stephen Ministry" trains and sends caregivers to the homebound and others who are going through difficult times. They and extraordinary ministers of holy Communion are prayed for and dismissed after each Mass to attend to their apostolates. An active bereavement ministry showers love and support upon grieving families in times of loss.
The senior citizens of the parish and the local community receive particular attention, Grabinski said. Older persons today are living longer, working longer and staying more active, which requires a different kind of outreach than might have been expected just decades ago.
"We really work to honor our seniors," she said, "and we invite the seniors of the community, not just of the cathedral, to join us."
Grabinski arranges senior trips to places like Cripple Creek, which has penny-slot casinos and live theater entertainment, and nature sight-seeing trips. She also plans local outings such as luncheons, home games for the local minor-league Skysox baseball team, visits to the dollar theaters and to the local Pottery Barn.
The hospitality is so strong, Father Quezada said, that Catholics "from all kinds of ZIP codes," some as far as 30 miles away, call St. Mary's their spiritual home.
And those greeters?
"Our greeters are wonderful," Grabinski said. "We have many people tell us how great it is when we have so many greeters at the door and at every Mass, plus our priests and deacons are greeting as well. It's marvelous."
Father Quezada agreed. "People who come to worship here are welcomed immediately with a bountiful greeting, a smile, and sometimes hugs and kisses," he said.
"There's a lot of morning energy -- a little too much for me personally," he quipped, "as I'm not quite the morning person."
The fruit of that welcoming spirit is seen in how it facilitates the follow-up, as parishioners and guests stay long after Mass, conversing over coffee and doughnuts in the parish hall or lingering in the beautiful plaza with the shepherd's gate that surrounds the cathedral.
"It's always very encompassing and conducive to warm and friendly community," he said. "I'm very proud to be a part of it, very blessed."
Gerald Korson writes from Indiana.
Catholic Faith Resources | For Catholic Parishes | Order OSV Products | RSS | Advertise | About Us | Contact Us | Jobs