The radical hospitality of pro-life movement

"Radical hospitality and generosity." That's a phrase I heard Carter Snead, a law professor at Notre Dame, use this fall and I can't get it out of my head. It's an attractive phrase. It draws you in. It seems to call out to us that we are not alone, suggesting home and welcome. It's a phrase that radiates hope and promise. It's also a call to action.

It's a notion similar to the one expressed by the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Are we going to live up to these words in the foreseeable future?

That's a real question people have on their hearts and minds. There's an uncertainty in the air, which centers on a Washington in transition. And with the Republican party in the majority in Congress, one of the first issues that has come up is defunding Planned Parenthood. There are many columns about the merits of this; this is not one of them. I'm grateful for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's commitment here. But winning this issue should be beyond Republican vs. Democrat dynamics. It should be about "radical hospitality and generosity."

In the flurry of headlines about Planned Parenthood and the politics of defunding, this phrase should prod the consciences of a nation.

The problem with the abortion issue is that it so often seems to come down to this: headlines about one side and the other, with talking points that can often be like salt on open wounds for the people being talked about and affected by the policies at play.

As a new Congress was sworn in, the March for Life Foundation announced a scorecard for keeping track of who's helping the pro-life cause and who's not. In the announcement, the group encouraged members to not merely be vote casters but "pro-life champions" and pointed to the example of the late Henry Hyde, the longtime congressman from Illinois.

In a 1987 speech marking the 200th anniversary of the Constitutional Convention, Hyde talked about hospitality as a "key public virtue" which had been violated by abortion. "Americans have traditionally been a welcoming people. Virtually everyone in this room is here because his or her parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents were welcomed to these shores as to a new home of freedom and opportunity." He pointed to Lazarus' words and contrasted them with "the cold, inhospitable" reality of a country where abortion is legal. We become accomplices to this inhospitality when we allow human lives to get lost in talking points and angry words.

"Radical hospitality," as it happens, is the cornerstone at Women's Care Centers, a network of 24 facilities serving some 23,000 women annually in eight states. "Hospitality is an attitude of heart that opens us to others and receives them on their own terms," the group's handbook explains. It quotes from Catholic priest and writer Henri Nouwen: "Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place ... Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own."

Radical hospitality is what motivates everyone who does pro-life work on the front lines. It jumps off the screen every time I see a Facebook update from Cheryl Calire about the Mother Teresa Home she helped found for single mothers in an old Church rectory, and it radiates like a beacon from the Sisters of Life who run a visitation mission downstate from her in Manhattan.

When Snead used the phrase, he was talking about the Notre Dame Vita Institute, which works with pro-life leaders across the country. It's groups like that Washington needs to look to and help. It would get us beyond our tired politics and give us new life, quite literally.

Email Kathryn Jean Lopez at

© 2017, Universal

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